Monday, 2 December 2013

The Unexpected and The Unexplained

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 love twist endings! I remember the Tales of the Unexpected - particularly the one with the woman who killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooked it and dished it up to the detectives :-) x

  2. It's the leg of lamb I remember too! I loved Tales of the Unexpected and find it inspiring to re-watch the series on DVD. x

  3. I adore flash fiction, and the thing I've learned from it is the "things are not what they seem" approach. You know, you go in reading the way the writer intended you to interpret it, but at the end you learn you were viewing it the wrong way. I love the twists like that, where it turns the story on its side.

  4. I tried to have a twist in the end of my novel, but it didn't really work out how I wanted. I just need to practice a bit more I guess.

  5. Oh I remember Tales of the Unexpected. I was very small, so I didn't understand them all, but I remember being entranced. It would be interesting to see them again.

    Done well, twist endings are brilliant... but I was brought up reading my mum's women's magazines that required a twist even if the story didn't need one. They always seemed contrived and squeezed for maximum twist, so I tend to rebel against them. I have written twist endings, but I think the trick as the writer if to not see them as a twist - that way they are pulled off a lot more smoothly... (if any of that makes sense!)

  6. I love twist endings. When they're done well, there's nothing like them.

    I've never read/seen Tales of the Unexpected. I'll have to check them out. Thanks for the recommendation.

  7. As a reader I love twist endings also. But as a writer, that craft technique hasn't fit my genre -yet!

  8. You're so right! But when a writer gets it right, wow. It's awesome.