U - Unexpected
"The author O. Henry taught me about the value of the unexpected. He once wrote about the noise of flowers and the smell of birds - the birds were chickens and the flowers dried sunflowers rattling against a wall."
One of my all time favourite programmes from the late 70’s was Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. The music for that series still lingers in my mind and although I can no longer remember much about the stories I do recall being fascinated by the unexpected endings. I spent most of the programme trying to second guess what the ending would be.
What a great writer Roald Dahl was – and not only of children’s stories. The unexpected twist ending is still something that totally captivates me when I read a new story. Even if the story itself has been a little humdrum – if there is a good twist ending that I never guessed, it will leave me with the belief that it was a great story and I will have a wondrous smile on my face. How could I not have guessed, I will say to myself… And sometimes I even go through the story to check where I missed the signpost. For there should always be a sign post of some description but it does not have to be (nor should it be) obvious.
Twist endings are difficult to pull off as so many writers either signpost too obviously or not at all. Then the reader feels cheated if it comes totally out of the blue – how could they have spotted it, they ask? That twist also needs to be believable according to the plot of the story. For instance you cannot have a character suddenly exhibiting a trait at the end of a story that was not there in the rest of the story. “Able to jump tall buildings and save the day” kind of thing…
I have tried to do twist endings in many of my own short stories and also tried it in a novel. It is infinitely more difficult in a novel but it is possible. I’m never too sure if it worked well in my own novel (The Witcheye Gene) but readers have told me they did not guess who the villain was until towards the end.
Memo to self – read Dahl’s 'Tales of the Unexpected' again!
Do you try to use twist endings? Are you good at disguising them?