Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Slippery Slithers and Turn About Twists!

snakey, hissy, twisty, tricky!
Twist Endings
I do so love a sparkling, unexpected twist at the end of a novel, don't you?
However, reading it is one thing but writing it is quite another... And handling that surprise well - and let's face it, in real life twists rarely happen as they do in books -  is as tricky as holding a slippery snake. But, when it works well, the twist ending lifts the story right off the page!
And I know it is much more difficult to do in a full length novel but relatively easy in a short story... So for me, the writer who pulls it off in a novel-length story has my total respect.
Thrillers especially, I feel, benefit from a strong twist ending – as long as it is carefully done and arises naturally from the story. I don’t usually plan twist endings but they often occur to me a as I am writing the story and I get very excited at the thought of tailoring my story somewhat so they fit nicely. And there is no better comment from a reader than them saying they never saw it coming.
Of course, to work properly the twist must not be evident to the reader until well into the story - if not actually at the very end. In fact, if it is obvious early on, it can totally destroy the rest of the tale! So twists have to be handled with a great deal of care.
The setup for the twist must come well in advance so the ending is not suddenly manufactured for the express purpose of the surprise/twist. If the reader has to go back and figure out ‘how the heck did that happen?’ and they can then see that the story had not misled them, then that is quite acceptable but the author has to be very careful that it all makes sense to the reader. Confusion at the end is an absolute no no...
There are those who say a good thriller story ought to be one twist after the other from beginning to end with surprises coming by the bucket-load in order to escalate tension and increase suspense. Not easy if you are to hold it all together. But iIf you can do this then the story never stalls and is never dull.
In thrillers, the suspense must be maintained right up until the final moments of the story, so to have a twist right at the end and keep the reader on the edge of his seat, especially if it has been one surprise after another right the way through, is not easy. I guess that’s why they call a good thriller story a breathless read.
Do you find twist endings easy to write in full novels? Have you ever read stories with twists that fail miserably?


  1. I am not good at writing twists. I fail miserably at it however, it's nice when an author can do it. I have read books where the author has tried and failed.

  2. These days, when I read a novel or watch a film/TV programme, I often find myself looking for the twist. Because they are so prevalent, especially in crime novels/thrillers, what seems like the least likely outcome is sometimes the most likely, and that's almost the ending the reader comes to expect.

    However, there's nothing more fantastic than when a writer comes up with a truly original twist. Very tricky though - so many of them have been done before. And yes, I've read loads of novels where the self-consciously 'clever' twist hasn't come off at all (although this does allow me to congratulate myself on working it all out!).

  3. I've done twists for short stories, but not for a novel. It's exceptionally difficult to write.

  4. Twists are so hard, because you need to make it believable, and that usually involves signposting along the way. That kind of plotting makes my head explode.

  5. The very successful novel Sister (Rosamund Lupton) has the kind of twist that makes you (well, me) feel utterly cheated. I think you have to be careful with twists in novels, as the reader has invested some time in reading them, and wants to feel satisfied at the end. Likewise What They Do in the Dark (Amanda Coe) has a really horrible twist, which I think spoils the rest of the novel.

  6. Twists are great - if they work. If they were guessed early on, or fail for some other reason, they can spoil an otherwise interesting book.

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I guess we are all more or less agreed!