What is a twist? Could it be a pinch of citrus zest added to a mixed drink? Possibly.

Is it to contort oneself in an abstract manner while remaining stationary? Probably.

In the context of storytelling, a twist is a event that happens, usually towards the end of the fourth act, which changes the perception of the events we are witnessing and all the preceding events and proceeding events. In general, in pop culture. This phenomenon is often used to describe an event in a movie. Famous twists involve Darth Vader in Star Wars, Samuel L Jackson’s character from Unbreakable, and Bruce Willis’s character from The Sixth Sense.

I have also heard these events used to describe a lot of occurrences such as the fact that in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony Stark is responsible for the creation of Ultron. In fact, with greater and greater frequency, I hear twists referred to as shocking events in a story. I think that this is a misuse of the word twist.

A plot twist is not a sudden revelation, although it can be. And it is certainly not a “curveball”, where the plot moves in a different direction than you might have expected. A plot twist should change the entire perspective of what you have just witnessed. The Ususual Suspects is a great example of the plot twist. A bad example of a plot twist would be if you thought someonet\ was dead was suddenly alive. I’m looking at John Snow.

For the most part, I think that pulling off a twist in a novel is much harder to do than it is in the movie. As you’ll notice, most of the examples I’ve used are in movies. This is because, from my perspective, there are certain visual cues and casting constraints that allow television and movies to— for lack of a better word—contain the audiences expectations. You can shoot things in a manner that is left up in the air but hints at the twist, as opposed to a book where, almost by definition, everything needs to be a subjective experience of the narrator.

I think a poor example of a twist in a book is the revelation that Snape was in love with Lily Potter. It is a revelation, yes, but it doesn’t in hindsight, change the entire perspective of why Snape despises Harry.

Twists have to not change anything that previously happened in the story and that story has to stand on its own. But the twist should change the perspective of all the events that come before. In that sense, perhaps twist is a ret con, a changing of the past to suit the current needs of the story. I might even argue that Darth Vader in Star Wars is not a twist.

Does anybody know of any great plot twists in a novel? Why is this a “twist” as opposed to a “curveball”?