You’ve been working your way through a new book, engaging and immersing yourself in its world. You’ve almost finished, you’re about 3/4 of the way through, when BAM! You are confronted by the plot twist … but hang on … this plot twist … it’s sort of … outlandish … unrealistic … random …. dare I say stupid? Who is this? Why did that character do that? Why is this happening? What is happening? I have no idea how we suddenly got here! What is going on!?
You, my friend, have just been exposed to a ‘cheap trick’.
Cheap tricks are an absolute hate of mine! Everyone has a slightly different opinion of what constitutes a cheap trick, what bothers me may not bother you, for example. Below, I have collated my most disliked cheap tricks that I have encountered in the literary world, across all genres. To me, it just disrupts and ruins the ambiance of the stories, and sometimes I feel as though the author just wants to shock the reader for the sake of it.
Ridiculous plot twists
Everyone loves a great plot twist. We love that jaw dropping moment, the revelation we never saw coming, or the thrill we get if we did successfully predict it. When this moment is taken away, it leaves us feeling dry, disappointed, and cheated. Sometimes you get a plot twist that is just ridiculous. It has come out of nowhere with seemingly no connection to the story; there were no hints dropped, there was no way you could have seen it coming, and now that you have, you’re left scratching your head thinking, “Wait, what just happened?”
These are best avoided by seriously thinking your twist through. Is it realistic? Have there been hints and clues leading up to it, even if only subtle or minor? Is the twist there for a reason? Does it actually push the story forward, challenging the characters in terms of the plot, or is it there purely for the shock factor?
When you really get into a story, you become attached to the characters, especially if they’re three dimensional, believable characters. They are what push the story, with them, there is no tale. Characters will make decisions, moving the plot forward. But sometimes, they make a decision that just seem out of character. It’s not that they’ve made a stupid decision, protagonists usually do at some stage, it’s that they’ve done something that you just can’t imagine them actually doing. Maybe the incredibly smart character, who always thinks things through before acting, has impulsively decided to go along with a complete stranger’s devious scheme. This is one I’ve come across recently. I was left thinking … but that character would never do that. I didn’t understand why their usual way of making decisions changed for apparently no reason.
So, if your character is making a decision, ask yourself WHY they make that decision. If your answer is “because it moves the plot forward,” you’ve missed the point. Yes, move the plot forward, but the decisions must still be in character and believable. If not, there has to be a reason for the difference. Perhaps they’re grieving and that’s why they’re suddenly rash. The reader needs to understand that thought process and WHY it’s changed. After all, that’s what character development is all about.
Introducing New Ideas, Too Late
Seriously. Just don’t do it. Unless your new idea is a revelation connected to the story (see the paragraph on plot twists), or a big surprise you’re going to address in a sequel, just don’t do it. There is nothing worse than having no time to wrap your head around a completely new idea towards the end of the book.
I have just read one that introduced a whole new idea, and consequential plot point 3/4 of the way through the final book in the series. No! Don’t do it! Even if this new concept is brilliant, the reader does not have time to be drawn into this new idea as there is only 1/4 of the book left. The previous ideas and plot that the book has, until now, been focused on, takes a backbench. It must make way for this new concept and is put on hold, hopefully temporarily. The focus moves to this new idea, but everything else still needs to be concluded and those loose ends tied up. As a consequence, the new idea is muddled and lost, the old ideas can seem redundant, and reading the end of the book unnecessarily frustrating.
I feel like this is usually a case of too many ideas. An author may have many, brilliant ideas and try to put ALL of them in the book. Ideas need to be thinned out, filed and perfected. You can’t put all of your ideas into one book, it would just be a mess. The ideas you do include must be refined and relevant. If you really want to include all of them, but can’t fit them, write a sequel. Make it neater. By adding in a new idea so close to the end of the book, it just devalues the original idea/plot that the majority of the story is based on.
So, those are my thoughts on cheap tricks. Obviously what I consider to be a cheap tricks, others may love! And that’s absolutely fine. It’s all about finding what works for you and your readers. So, on that note …