I’m so grateful to have time to write, but I’m now learning what it means to be stuck on a plot point. I love the characters I’ve created, but I’m interested in developing more unique story lines and plots for my short stories and for my novels.
This got me thinking about novels I’ve read, particularly about books that either had an ingenious plot (Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is one example) or books that had an incredible plot twist (a la Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn). I started looking through my Goodreads “Read” list, trying to remember books with plots that really surprised or compelled me. I was able to remember a few, but not many. After I read a book, especially after some time has passed, I am rarely able to recall the plot in detail. I usually have a general feeling of “I loved that book!” or “That book was pretty good.” But, remembering specific plot points or twists? That is a challenge.
I decided to do some crowdsourcing so that I could get a list of books to either read or study, examining the plot twists and turns of each book and trying to understand the different methods authors use to surprise their readers. This is especially important to me because I am interested in writing mysteries, where my goal is not only to entertain readers, but also to mislead them, to trick them, to do some literary magic that makes them say “Whaaaaaat?” out loud – which I do frequently when an author has genuinely surprised me.
I’m a member of a really fun Facebook group that talks about all things books, so I wrote a post asking for recommendations of books with interesting plots or crazy plot twists, and I got a fantastic list.
The biggest commonalty I noticed among all the books with intriguing plot twists or unique storylines was an unreliable narrator. Sometimes it was a character who had dementia or was hallucinating; sometimes it was someone uninformed; often it was a character who was a liar. It was helpful to notice this commonality; it’s a tool I can try to use in my mystery writing.
There were other things I noticed – authors who seemed to ask intriguing “What if?” questions, such as “What if humans were cloned for the purpose of donating organs?” And then letting their plot roll out from there. I love this. Of course, as soon as I started trying to think of “What if?” questions, I couldn’t think of any. I’m hoping some will come to me in moments of daydreaming.
In case others are interested, here is my list of books with great plots and twists. The books I personally recommend are in bold. Enjoy!
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
One Of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus
We Were Liars, E. Lockhart
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-Leach
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Piccoult
The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough
The Storyteller, Jodi Piccoult
The Good Girl, Mary Kubica
Triptych, Karin Slaughter
Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill
Case Histories, Kate Atkinson
Atonement, Ian McEwan
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver