I suppose that one of the side effects of taking lots of creative writing classes in the early 2000’s is that I follow a lot of guidelines that have been tossed aside by my contemporaries. With years of contemplation and analysis, I have decided that they are very good ideas indeed, and I kind of wish that more writers thought the same way.
Plot twists that don’t make any sense.
The most egregious example of this is Disney’s Frozen, with the whole, “Hans is secretly evil” thing. His accounting for his actions is that he wanted to be king, but going through with marrying Anna would have given him exactly what he wanted, especially with Elsa running around crazy — come on, it’s not like marrying into an advantageous position never happened historically. Also, wanting to be king is ambitious, but not wrong in and of itself.
The whole, “I’m going to let you die while I laugh evilly” scene is nonsensical and jarring. After all, if the guy is that much of a sociopath, he’d maintain the act right through the very end, and never reveal his true thoughts under any circumstances.
The worst part is, there isn’t a single ounce of foreshadowing. I know that plenty of people have come up with “epileptic trees” style theories trying to prove there is, but I’ve seen that movie a million times thanks to my little girls, and there isn’t even a calculating look or anything. Rule of thumb: if foreshadowing isn’t immediately obvious the second time around, then it isn’t there.
It’s like the writers didn’t have the slightest clue how it should end, so they randomly threw that in as a drunken late night decision, and it killed the whole movie.
Plot twists must stay in character and make logical sense.
Even if you feel like you’re giving everything away by mentioning that Martha was irrationally jealous five chapters before she runs Jimmy over with a car, remember that the readers aren’t going to know what you’re building up to, but they will feel jilted if they think you’re deliberately jerking them around. Also remember that bragging, “I SAW IT COMING FIRST!” is just as much fun for the readers as being taken completely by surprise.
Or maybe the story will later reveal that Martha was possessed by a demon, and that’s why her actions were suddenly out of character. After all, these are only guidelines.