Like many first time writers, the moment I picked up my pen and annouced that I was going to write, I recieved a plethora of advice both good and bad. The single bit that stood out, after all these years, was given to me by a friend of a friend who said, in all seriousness, “Don’t be cliched. Keep your audience guessing”.
On the surface, it sounded like sound advice. What audience wanted a complete cliche of a story? We pan movies and television shows that follow that way, why should books be any different? So, following that advice, I added more twists to more stories than M. Night Shyamalan. Suffice to say, adding secret families, hidden powers, and surprise endings without much text evidence leading up to it doesn’t actually enhance your story…at all.
In any media, when we create a story, we leave clues to show where the story will go. The main couple will spend time and be romantic together, latent powers will be hinted at during the hero’s journey, and the big bad of the story will be introduced and his motives explained instead of having a last minute tragic backstory that magically excuses all of his awful acts and crimes. The story has a logical progression. It doesn’t make sense for a simple “Will they, won’t they?” romance story to suddenly change into a sci-fi where the fate of the universe hangs in the balance without warning. A YA novel with a apocalypse setting will be more focused on the heroes saving their crumbled society than winning some fashion show or learning the moral that popularity isn’t everything.
There is an unsettling trend that your story having a reasonable and predicted ending (good triumphing over evil, the love interests ending up together, the hero dying) is somehow bad. Fans are clever and dedicated. They can guess where a story is going to go by the clues that you laid out for them. Yet, laying out those clues has suddenly changed from having a predicted ending to be a cliched one. And there is scorn to be had for that.
For example, in the titan franchise that is the MCU, many fans predicted that Tony Stark or Steve Rogers were going to die. Endgame was the big movie. The culmination of thousands of hours of work, dedication, and careful research into the Marvel comics came in the form of Endgame. Fans were guessing who was going to die, who was going to live, and how it all was going to be pulled off. There were hits and misses but their predictions were dead on. The big three: Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man were put out to pasture and gave way to new heroes to lead the franchise: Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel. A lot of us saw this coming and when it did, it was still a good movie.
If people can guess the direction that your story is heading then congrats! You’ve set everything up perfectly. If you pull the rug out from under them, thrown in new elements that aren’t in your story in the first place, then you’ve succumbed to every writer’s mistake; thinking that a predicted ending is a bad one.
When I added my twists and turns that I never hinted at, my writing suffered. They screwed up the flow of the story, added unnecessary questions to a piece that had enough to begin with. The endings were unsatisfying and ruinous. I had to learn the hard way to stick with what I plotted out. A good story doesn’t need twists to keep it’s audience on it’s toes, all it needs is a good plot and a good writer.