T is for Twists

Puerto Rico; Photo credit: Doree Weller

Puerto Rico; Photo credit: Doree Weller

“I don’t really believe in ‘directions’ in art; the rope twists as you follow it, that’s all.”
Graham Nelson

When I was a teenager, writing horror, I LOVED writing twist endings.  I loved writing a story that was going along a certain way, and then BAM! hitting you in the face with something that seemed out of left field (but if you re-read the story, you could see it).  I kept that up for a little while, but then I started reading about writing.  Many authors warned that often times stories with twist endings are boring, just leading up to the super-clever twist.  Who cares about a great payoff if the story itself is boring?

I hang my head in shame, as this was the truth about many of my stories.  (I was a teenager; give me a break!)

Done well, twists can make for a memorable story.  M. Night Shymalan made three great movies with wonderful twists (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village).  I remember reading Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks for the first time, and the end was sad and surprising.  (Of course now I know that every single Nicholas Sparks book ends the same way, so it’s no longer a twist.)

Other good books with twist endings:

Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane (also a good movie, but the book was better)

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin (this book is the origin of my nickname, Turtle)

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (a decent book; not my favorite, but a quality twist)

I think that twist endings, at their best, feel organic.  They don’t feel contrived or like a means to an end.  The twist happens as a way to imitate life, because life has a lot of twists to it.  It’s just the nature of it to be that way.  I haven’t written anything with a twist ending lately, but it could happen.  These days I mostly try to hang on as the story takes on a life of its own.  The characters whisper to me, and I go where they lead.  Some days it’s a bumpy ride!

“Life has got all those twists and turns. You’ve got to hold on tight and off you go.”
-Nicole Kidman



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