When it comes to writing short stories and flash fiction, the ending will often make or break the story. And a good plot twist can definitely leave the reader satisfied at the end of the story.
But a huge problem can arise when a plot twist is done poorly.
When people think of plot twists, they often make the mistake of assuming that a plot twist is any ending that happens completely out of the blue, knocking the reader of his chair, proclaiming “Gee, Maud, I sure didn’t see that coming!”
But that’s not really what a plot twist is supposed to do.
A good plot twist isn’t done to simply surprise the reader. It’s not done to “trick” or lie to the reader either.
And they should never be “out of the blue.” If they are done without proper foreshadowing and believability, they will come off as week and the reader will see right through it.
So how to do write a good plot twist?
The July/August 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest has a great article by Steven James titled Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corner where he lists fours points to writing a great plot twist:
These are all important elements, but when it comes to ending a story, I would say that believability is the most important.
So how do you make something believable?
Before I answer that question, I’d like you to watch the first two minutes of this TED Talk featuring the Amazing Randi. (The whole thing is awesome, but only the first two minutes are relevant to this post.)
Did you watch it? Excellent.
This was a perfect example of how people make assumptions. While the beard trimmer and glasses may not exactly be great examples for writing fiction, they demonstrate how easy it is to lead a person in a certain direction based on the assumptions they make.
To write a good plot twist, all you have to do is leads them off in the obvious direction, you subtly pull your story in another.
Another way to look at it is too leave clues. Don’t lie to the reader, but figure out what to say to make them assume the opposite of what is really going on. If you look at The Sixth Sense, for example, (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT) the first-time viewer assumes Malcolm Crowe and his wife are having marriage problems. His wife is portrayed throughout the movie as distant in the present and clinging to a past where they were happy. But after the big reveal, (I’M SERIOUS ABOUT THE SPOILER WARNING) it’s obvious that her distance was sorrow for his death, and she wasn’t clinging to a past where they were happy, but one where he was still alive.
Never in that movie is the viewer lied to in order to force the twist ending.
And even more importantly, the ending doesn’t seem tacked on for shock value.
At Theme of Absence, I see plenty of twists done poorly in my submission pile. I never criticize the authors or the stories I receive, but of the twist endings I reject, in every case it’s either because I saw the ending coming from a mile away, or it was so out of place, that it killed the story instead of saving it.
So if you’re a fan of twist endings, what do you like to see? And if you write them, what other tips do you have to share?