Saturday, 28 April 2012

Tales of the Unexpected - The X-Factor

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."
Chuck Jones
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?


  1. I loved that show... but I was very young, so that's my excuse for not realising it was Roald Dahl!

  2. The Gift of the Magi by O'Henry is one of my all time favourites.

    I used to love Tales of the Unexpected (I now have the theme tune in my head) and twist endings have always fascinated me. I think you are right that there should always be a sign post, otherwise you are tricking the reader and I don't like that :-)

  3. I don't use twisted ending as much as I should but I sure do like to read them. I haven't heard of Tales of the Unexpected but I want to look it up.

  4. I haven't read a lot of Dahl. I loved the twist of Gift of the Magi as Teresa mentioned, but it always frustrated me because I wanted it to work out more happily after all that ultimate sacrifice! ;o) I use twists and turns in my own novels, but I'm not sure they involve the endings so much--just throughout the book. Whether they work well or not...that's another question. LOL

  5. I have a trilogy and so far there are natural braking points for the first two books. But the third due out this fall will have lots of twists and turns.

  6. Roald Dahl was the master of Twists, as was O.Henry. Love them both.

  7. I used to love watching Tales of the Unexpected on TV. I'll never forget the one with the lamb chop where the Detective is eating it at the end of the story and says something like 'I'm sure the answer is right under our noses'...

  8. I am not that good with twist ending! But I love reading them

    Sonia Lal @ Story Treasury

  9. My plots always seem to end up WAY more complicated than I mean for them to be! Argh!