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Margaret Lucke p3

Margaret Lucke explains twists and reversals...

READERSVOICE.COM: What magazines about writing or mystery writing do you like to read?

MARGARET LUCKE: For news, reviews, author profiles, and other information to keep up to date with the mystery genre, I like Mystery Scene and Deadly Pleasures.

I also enjoy Mystery Readers Journal, put out by Mystery Readers International, which is the world’s largest organization of mystery readers and fans. Each issue centers on a theme, such as paranormal mysteries or historical mysteries or books set in a particular locale. It’s a great source for suggestions about what to read next.

When I want to read good short fiction, I turn to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and The Strand Magazine.

RV: I was curious about learning to write twists. You hear on news stories where there’s been a new twist, where some new weird info has surfaced about some weird story. And in true detective shows they usually make it look like a particular suspect was likely to have committed the crime, then the twist is it turns out to be someone else. But what’s your definition of a twist?

ML: Essentially, a twist is something unexpected that happens, forcing the protagonist to change her (or his) course of action. She has been proceeding along a particular path, and this new situation twists her around and makes her follow a different path.

Every mystery plot has twists, some more dramatic than others. There are usually major ones, called plot points, at the end of act one, at the midpoint of the book, and at the end of act two. What most twists have in common is the element of surprise–a surprise for the protagonist if not for the reader.

RV: Can you give an example?

ML: There are many ways to twist a plot. Here’s one: Have your detective stumble on a clue that proves everything she’s assumed about the case is wrong. For instance, she might discover that the suspect she believes to be guilty has an airtight alibi for the night of the murder.

Another possibility: Toss in an unexpected event, some new development that your detective must explain or deal with. Perhaps the prime suspect is murdered, which means he can’t have been the killer after all. Or a witness the detective has counted recants his story or turns out to be lying.

RV: What’s the difference between a twist and a reversal?

ML: A reversal is a twist in which something turns completely around and becomes its opposite. There are a couple of types. The first type might be called a flipping of reality–what has been assumed to be true is shown to be false, or what has been seen as mighty or important turns out to be weak or trivial. Or vice versa. Think of The Wizard of Oz–Dorothy and her companions believe they’ve achieved their goal when they finally arrive in Oz and seek help from the mighty Wizard. But the wizard is revealed to be a weakling, a blowhard, and a fraud. Dorothy and her friends are back to square one.

The other type is a turnaround in the hero’s fortunes. Something happens, and as a result a character who’s been failing is now a path to success. Or vice versa. Cinderella is a good example here. Poor Cindy is left behind to sweep up ashes while her stepsisters frolic at the royal ball. Then the fairy godmother shows up and Cindy’s circumstances change for the better. She goes to the ball and wins the prince’s heart. But her success comes with a catch, as is often the case when good fortune arrives by way of a plot reversal. The fairy godmother’s magic expires at midnight. When the clock strikes, Cindy’s fortune reverses again, and she’s back to being a scullery maid–at least until the next reversal occurs.

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-copyright Simon Sandall