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