Readers often like to be surprised. They enjoy the unexpected and finding out that what they thought will happen, doesn’t. But you do need to lay the groundwork so that twists and surprises are logical. This can be done through techniques such as foreshadowing, red herrings, clues and misdirection. Without planting something to make the twist appear to be the logical conclusion the reader can be left feeling disappointed.
Foreshadowing is when you hint at what is to come without clearly stating what is going to happen. It can be the mention of a character, item, event, a character trait, a seemingly unimportant fact or a throwaway comment. In the early chapters the foreshadowing seems insignificant until the reader reaches later chapters where it will suddenly make sense or gain importance. You have to be careful not to be too obvious or the foreshadowing is instead jumping up and down screaming, ‘look at me’. Chekhov’s gun is a form of foreshadowing.
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” Anton Chekhov.
This is when an item or character is added to the story that seems to have no significance until it’s used in the later part of the story. When done well, the item blends into the story until it’s needed.
Red herrings are very common in mystery and detective novels. They often seem like the most logical conclusion, but instead have the reader drawing a false conclusion. To make them effective you have to be careful not to make them too obvious or the reader will realise they’re red herrings. They can be a clue, an item or a character. Red herrings are a form of misdirection.
Instead of planting false information as you do with a red herring, you can gloss over information and move the reader on quickly so that although they’ve been given important information, they don’t realise the importance or significance of it. A little like rushing them past a half open door where they only catch a glimpse of what they need to know before drawing their attention to the next lot of important information.
This is when the view point character either lies, even to themselves, or perceives things differently to what they are. There are various reasons why the narrator can be unreliable, including age and mental illness. A good example of an unreliable narrator is Fight Club.