The Art to Twisting an Ending
by Deborah Owen
We all know a surprise ending when we see one, but how do you write it? Read on to find out.
Wikipedia defines a twisted ending as an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, which may contain a surprising irony, or cause the audience to review the story from a different perspective by revealing new information about the characters or plot.
In other words, a twisted ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. This literary device is also referred to as a surprise ending.
Alfred Hitchcock was the first master of twisted endings in film. In only 30 minutes, he could develop a plot and mislead the viewer. His technique was something akin to the game of “Clue,” allowing the viewers to draw their own faulty conclusions. This type of twisted ending is called a “red herring.”
In the movie Moby Dick, Captain Ahab spends his life searching for the white whale that bit his leg off. The twist comes when Ahab becomes ensnared in ropes attached to the great white and the whale drags him to his drowning death.
Examples: Let’s suppose a man has murdered a woman and her husband is out to catch the killer. Just as hubby catches the murderer, the police arrive and take the man into custody. How can you twist that ending? There are many ways and none are right or wrong. You have literary license to do as you please, but do follow one rule: satisfy your reader. Here are a few ideas:
1. The husband’s vendetta is to see the killer die, but when the murderer goes to trial, he begs for the death penalty. Now the husband wants him to live a miserable life in prison.
2. Suppose the killer became a Christian and begged the husband to forgive him? Think how that would change the parameters of this case.
3. Suppose the murderer was sentenced to life without parole? The husband of the dead woman is delighted with the verdict, but an inmate kills the murderer on the first day in prison. Oops.
4. Or… the killer could escape from the courtroom, dash into the street and be hit by a semi.
5. The judge sentences the man to death. The dead woman’s husband is happy, but his grief drives him to his knees and he becomes a Christian. He changes his mind about wanting the killer to die and instead, leads a campaign for a stay of execution.
The best ending is when you twist the ending, and then twist it again. For example, let’s make this murderer a really evil man. In prison, he killed two people but wasn’t caught in the act. Eventually, he gets paroled and is promptly hit by a car. The reader thinks justice has been served… but the man doesn’t die. He’s paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life.
The secret to twisting an ending is finding the point where you can veer off to an alternative resolution. Exactly what you do with it from that point is up to you.
Your turn. Think of a scene and how you can twist the ending and share it with us.