Theme Week: Twist Endings

I love the Twilight Zone—and all well executed twisty stories—but, let’s face it, the very title of the show has become synonymous with cliché and trope. That’s not to say you can’t write a great twist ending anymore. (Or enjoy a good TZ marathon.) Films such as the Usual Suspects and Memento are classic because of their twists.

But for a twist to work, it has to happen because it’s what needs to happen. That is, the ending needs to be organic to the story. The twist should add another layer of meaning, but at the very least it can’t be just for the sake of the gotcha.

And you have to play fair with the reader. Lay the groundwork for the twist in your story, but don’t make it too obvious. Don’t make all the characters too idiotic to figure out what’s going on. Don’t deliberately hide a fact just to prevent the reader from figuring it out until the very end. Don’t have a character wake up and find it’s all been a dream (or virtual reality or a book). The reader doesn’t want to feel fooled or tricked—or feel like you cheated. (Or didn’t know what you were doing.)

Some readers, though, are gonna hate the twist no matter what. Just like some people hate ambiguous endings or cliffhangers. But plenty of us like all three—as long as they’re well done. SyFy still runs a Twilight Zone marathon every New Years (and at least one other time a year). I can’t be the only one watching it!

How do you guys feel about twists? Any favorites (or not)?


Becky Mushko said...

I like twist endings when, as you said, the groundwork has been laid. I loved the old Twilight Zone show and am delighted that a lot of its episodes are available to watch online.

M. Dunham said...

I love twists, but I hate how so many books, particularly those in the crime/mystery genre, tend to make logic leaps that a reader could not possibly see woven into the story.

It's not that I expect myself to always be able to figure out a twist, but so many twists are attributed to things like offstage discoveries which we get to discover just as the writer shows us the twist (Jeffrey Deaver's thrillers are notorious for this), or leaps that I have on idea how a character could make that assumption, that I just go "What?" And it throws me completely out of the book because there was no internal logic for the discovery. It drives me nuts!

On the other hand, when the twists are done well, it's just an amazing read. Bad Monkeys by Ruff does an AMAZING job with twists that you can see back woven very subtly into the plot, and the payoff at the end is great. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I still am, in fact, see? ;)

Angie Smibert said...

Thanks for the Ruff tip, M.