Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pulling The Rug Out(aka - Twist Endings)

I think there's this push/pull dynamic at work for most writers.  We want to be edgy and unpredictable(to a point), but we don't want our audience to be screaming for our head.  It's this dilemma that plays into how far afield we take endings that aren't in line with the way we set things up.

Twist endings can be great.  So long as some of the seeds are planted along the way so that a discerning reader can go back and say, "Aha!  I missed it, but it's right there!," then a twist ending can make a good story great.  Unfortunately, so many of us get so caught up in wanting to make an impact that we create twists simply for the sake of twists, and we end up looking stupid.

Readers have certain expectations.  When reading a mystery, they expect to not necessarily see the end coming.  Absent that, though, they want to see things like the main character's love life resolved or for grandma to save her farm.  Undercutting them leaves them without closure and usually pisses them off.  And remember that pissed off readers rarely return.

I'm not saying to get all predictable where any five year old could see what you have in mind 400 pages down the road, but don't swerve just because you're feeling froggy.  M Night Shyamalan has become a joke because he does almost nothing but twist endings.  It was fine with The Sixth Sense, but it got tiresome after a while because audiences started trying to figure out the twist that they knew was coming.

That's another part of the point - by being "unpredictable" all the time, aren't you becoming...unpredictable?  Surprises aren't surprises if everyone expects them.  You need a good reason to occasionally throw a curve, and it needs to be so overwhelming to the audience that they forgive you for not fixing things up the way they wanted.

The best advice I can give on this is to not be a douchebag.  Give your audience closure, and save your twists for those rare works you want to stand out.  Otherwise, you'll be shoved to the back by your readers.

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