Twist endings

This is a twisted week! Today and tomorrow, we’ll talk about twist endings; Wednesday and Thursday, about plot twists; and on Friday, about twists of voice.

Twist Endings

On my current novel revision project, one of the criticisms is that the plot is too predictable. What I need is a twist ending, or at least plot events that unexpected. The thing is that I like my ending; therefore, I must change the set-up.

There are four basic types of twist endings:

  1. Two good endings. The story sets up two possible choices for the ending and different readers will choose which side to root for. Or the two possible endings are set up unequally, so most readers will expect one ending; but when the twist occurs, they slap their foreheads and say, “I should have expected that.”This requires plotting multiple endings. Think of it as one of those branching stories with several possible choices at crucial steps. When the protagonist takes a step forward disguise which trail s/he is taking. Use events that are ambiguous, with several interpretations. Also, make sure the protagonist’s motivations could work in several directions; or disguise/hide the real motivation and instead show a surface motivation.
  2. Unreliable narrator. The reader sees the action through the eyes of an unreliable or naive narrator. Be sure to give the reader enough clues, though, that they will not be shocked by the ending.
  3. Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong, will go wrong. Small things believably fail, reasonable things trip up our protagonist–until, these things that were overlooked become a huge crisis. This would work especially well for plot twists within a story.
  4. Use unspoken expectations. Set up an expectation, then break it.

For example in this old folk song, expectations are set up and broken with each line. Fill in the line with what you expect, then read on to see how the lyrics really read:

Sweet Violets
There once was a farmer who took a young miss,
in back of the barn where he gave her a _______
. . . lecture on horses and chickens and eggs,
and told her that she had such beautiful_______
. . . manners that suited a girl of her charms,
a girl that he wanted to take in his ________
. . . washing and ironing and then if she did
they could get married and raise lots of_______
. . . sweet violets. Sweeter than the roses,
covered all over from head to toe,
covered all over in sweet violets.

The song sets up expectations, like jokes set up gag lines. Breaking those expectations create laughter and twists in our stories.

Caution: Be sure you’ve played fair with the audience and set up the twist by foreshadowing it!

Tomorrow: Invention strategies for twist endings.

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