To celebrate this great event, I’m delighted to host the amazing @AlexSokoloff on B2W, talking twists in the tale. Alexandra is both a novelist and screenwriter and has some GREAT writing insights, so make sure you check out her website & follow her on Twitter.
Needless to say, this post is SPOILERIFIC and then some, but if you haven’t seen these classic movies yet?? SHAME ON YOU! Enjoy!
The Big Twist is a highly prized commodity in Hollywood. Done well, it’s as close to a guaranteed script sale as you can get, and over and over has meant gonzo box office even in movies that would have been a hard sell otherwise (think The Crying Game).
It’s an issue that seems to make authors tear their hair as well. Editors insist on them, readers expect them.
But if you’re interested in learning about twists work and building your skill at twisting your own stories, you can learn A LOT from the movies.
Start by making a list: What are ten twist endings that surprised and delighted you, or even sent you right back into the theater or to the first page of the book to see the movie or read the story again?
Once you’ve got your list, you can start analyzing how each author, screenwriter, or playwright is manipulating you to give that twist its power, so that you can do the same for your readers and/or viewers.
Here are five classic twists and some movie examples to start with:
1) “The Killer Is Me” …
… AKA The Protagonist is the culprit, but doesn’t know it. We find probably the most famous twist ending of world literature in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (429 BCE) in which Oedipus, the king of Thebes, is trying to discover the cause of a devastating plague in the city, only to find that he himself is the culprit (Falling Angel/Angel Heart, a variation in Presumed Innocent). MORE: 7 Screenwriting Lessons From Crime Movies
2) The Unreliable Narrator
A literary device that makes for a powerful twist is the unreliable narrator. The Usual Suspects has won classic status for its now -amous reveal that meek Verbal Kint is the nefarious Keyser Soze he’s been talking to the police about, using random objects in the police station to add details to his fabricated story (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Gone Girl).
Fight Club puts a spin on the unreliable narrator and throws in some Oedipus, as antagonist Tyler Durden is revealed to be an alter ego of split-personality narrator Edward Norton. Of course multiple personality disorder can be used as a twist all on its own, most famously employed in Psycho, but also in The Eyes of Laura Mars, Identity, and dozens of cheesy rip-offs of the concept. MORE: All About Liz in THE HOLE (2001), another unreliable narrator
3) Sudden Death
Psycho has another famous twist, which I’m sure at the time of the film’s release was just about as shocking as the reveal of “Mother”: the apparent main character, Janet Leigh, is murdered (spectacularly) at the first act climax (No Way Out, The Untouchables, Burn After Reading). MORE: 5 Top Tips On Visuals For Your Novel From Hollywood Blockbusters
Frank Darabont’s film of Stephen King’s The Mist takes the idea of its shocker ending from a line in King’s original novella, but gives it an ironic twist that is pure horror.
After battling these terrifying creatures for the whole length of the movie, our heroes run out of gas and the protagonist uses the last four bullets in their gun to kill all his companions, including his son.
As our hero stumbles out of the car intending to meet his own death by monster, the mist starts to lift and he sees Army vehicles coming to the rescue. People loved it, people hated it, but it was one of the most devastating and shocking endings I’ve seen it years. MORE: Dramatic Irony & Twists In The Tale
5) The Big Secret
The Big Secret Reveal is the Holy Grail of twists. We all know The Sixth Sense by now: the psychiatrist who seems to be treating a little boy who claims to see dead people turns out to be one of the dead people the boy is seeing.
This one is especially interesting to note because writer/director M. Night Shyamalan went through several drafts of the script before he realized that the Bruce Willis character should be a ghost!
This goes to prove you don’t have to have a great twist planned from the very beginning of your writing process – you can discover a perfect twist in the writing of the story (The Others, Eastern Promises, The Crying Game). MORE: 5 Things To Remember When Writing A Mystery Or Thriller
Your turn! What are some other great filmic and literary twists and what makes them so good?
BIO: Alexandra Sokoloff is a Thriller Award winner and Anthony and Bram Stoker Award nominee, a produced screenwriter and teacher of the internationally acclaimed Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops, based on her books and blog. Her bestselling, Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series, following a haunted FBI agent’s hunt for a female serial killer, is out now.