Twist Endings

26 Mar
Brian Evenson's story "Windeye" was first published in PEN America 11: Make Believe. The story was later selected for the 2010 PEN/O'Henry Prize Stories.

Brian Evenson’s story “Windeye” was first published in PEN America 11: Make Believe. The story was later selected for The 2011 PEN/O’Henry Prize Stories.

Twist endings are one of the great pleasures of literature, yet in contemporary fiction, they’ve gone the way of the dodo and the epiphany. No one would dare write a modern version of O’Henry’s classic “Gift of the Magi,” and for good reason. That twist—and others like it—seem manipulative and implausible to modern readers. Perhaps it’s our attachment, as Americans, to realism, but we tend to relegate sudden reversals of fortune or circumstance to reality TV and schlocky movies. As a result, it’s tempting to ask whether a twist ending is even possible in literary fiction.

Brian Evenson would say yes, and he pulls of a doozy in “Windeye.” The story appeared in The 2011 Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories and was first published by PEN American Center. You can read it at PEN America’s site, here.

How the Story Works

Evenson uses an old trick: Introduce a character, weave her into the fabric of the story, and then—when our attention is focused elsewhere— make us question the character’s reality.  It’s not unlike the strategy used by Ron Howard in A Beautiful Mind; the brilliant mathematician’s friend is real, and when, suddenly, he’s not, we’re as dumbfounded as the mathematician. In “Windeye”, the reader doesn’t fully understand the truth until the mother says, “But you don’t have a sister.” And like the boy, we can’t quite believe it.

In a classic reversal, such as the one used by M. Night Shyamalon in The Sixth Sense, the viewer or reader’s sense of what is true is completely reversed. In other words, we realize that Bruce Willis is, in fact, not alive but dead. “Windeye” operates differently. The twist is incomplete. The sister likely never existed, but the boy can’t be certain of it – and more importantly, the boy will never be certain. Evenson creates this uncertainty with the fifth and final section, jumping forward in time, explaining the reversal’s emotional consequences. The boy can never shake the feeling that one day his sister will “simply reappear, young as ever, ready to continue with the games they had played.” This is similar to the strategy that Alfred Hitchock used in Vertigo, when Jimmy Stewart’s character discovers that he’s been fooled. Instead of ending with the revelation, the film continues, revealing the twist’s emotional consequences.

Once you’ve read the story, it’s easy to go back, section by section, to see how the twist (the fact that the sister isn’t real) is hinted at but not revealed. It’s worth checking out to learn how seeds planted at the beginning gradually sprout and reveal more of themselves.

The Writing Exercise:

  1. Write down an ending (boy gets girl, woman discovers fortune, man finds happiness, woman is revealed to be a zombie). Don’t be afraid to go boldly where you normally wouldn’t dare.
  2. Now, write down a beginning that is the complete opposite of the ending (girl doesn’t know boy exists, woman is poor, man is miserable, woman is the leader of the free world).
  3. You may think that the trick will be getting from Point A to Point B, from leader of the free world to the realization that she’s a zombie. But a story with a twist—in truth, most stories—depends on a point between A and B. So, give the character a goal that has nothing to do with the Point B (boy needs to escape from prison, woman needs to hide from ex-husband, man wants to become the world’s greatest ventriloquist, woman must pass a national budget).
  4. Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 8.45.45 PMOutline the events that must occur or the stages the character must go through to reach the destination he or she is aiming for. At the same time, outline backward from the Point B ending. The moment where the outlines meet will be a point of high tension (hopefully). If you can create the outline, all that is left is to flesh out the story, dropping hints of Point B in the beginning.

If you’re working on a story and don’t want to start a new one, try this exercise:

  1. Reread the ending of your story. Then fast forward in time (six months, sixty years, whatever). Summarize the emotional consequences of the ending you have already written. How do the characters live with the ending you’ve given them?
  2. You may discover that the story isn’t over. The story’s true conflict may still be unwritten. Or, you may realize that your original ending is the best one. That realization can be as valuable as any.

Have fun writing.

Advertisements

15 Responses to “Twist Endings”

  1. wee1one March 27, 2013 at 8:02 p03 #

    I loved this post. I love this type of story, so it was a great read. Plus I ‘think’ I write a not bad twist, but I’ve never really deconstructed one in a story or examined the mechanics of it. I can’t wait to go through a few old stories to see if my drafts meet this challenge! I’m also intrigued by adding more emotion to the ending and I will definitely be examining my stories to see if I can add more by using this technique.

    • michaelnoll1 March 27, 2013 at 8:02 p03 #

      So great to know this was useful. It’s definitely interesting to deconstruct your own stories in this way. You can discover holes that you didn’t know were there. Good luck!

  2. bit.ly August 2, 2014 at 8:02 p08 #

    Hey there! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give
    you a shout out from Dallas Tx! Just wanted to say keep up
    the excellent work!

  3. Jorge August 10, 2014 at 8:02 p08 #

    It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this superb blog!

    I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my
    Google account. I look forward to brand new updates and
    will talk about this website with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

  4. Best car seats 2015 January 14, 2015 at 8:02 p01 #

    I am really enjoying the theme/design of your web site.

    Do you ever run into any browser compatibility problems? A
    handful of my blog readers have complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but
    looks great in Chrome. Do you have any tips to help fix this issue?

  5. meilleur aspirateur en 2015 January 24, 2015 at 8:02 p01 #

    Hi I am so excited I found your blog page, I really found you by accident, while I was looking on Askjeeve for something else, Anyways I am here now and would just like to
    say thanks for a remarkable post and a all round thrilling blog
    (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have
    time to go through it all at the minute but I have
    saved it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time
    I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the awesome jo.

  6. mejor carrito de bebe January 26, 2015 at 8:02 p01 #

    I know this web page gives quality based articles and other stuff, is there any
    other site which gives these kinds of data in quality?

  7. que vigilabebes comprar February 7, 2015 at 8:02 p02 #

    Hi to every one, since I am really eager of reading this weblog’s post to be updated regularly.
    It contains nice information.

  8. ps2003.com February 10, 2015 at 8:02 p02 #

    It’s going to be finish of mine day, except before ending I am reading this wonderful article to improve my know-how.

  9. top 3 cribs of 2015 February 27, 2015 at 8:02 p02 #

    I don’t even know the way I stopped up right here, but I assumed this post was
    good. I do not recognise who you might be however certainly you’re going to a well-known blogger if you
    aren’t already. Cheers!

  10. Kandy March 13, 2015 at 8:02 p03 #

    Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it,
    you are a great author.I will remember to bookmark your blog and will often come back from now on. I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great posts, have a nice
    holiday weekend!

  11. Meilleur tablette March 18, 2015 at 8:02 p03 #

    Woah! I’m really loving the template/theme of this blog.
    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very hard
    to get that “perfect balance” between usability and visual appeal.
    I must say you’ve done a very good job with this.
    Additionally, the blog loads super quick for me on Opera.
    Superb Blog!

  12. cama elastica October 20, 2015 at 8:02 p10 #

    Excellent post! We are linking to this particularly great post on our
    website. Keep up the great writing.

  13. Mychristianchildrensbooks.com October 29, 2015 at 8:02 p10 #

    If some one desires expert view about running a blog
    after that i suggest him/her to go to see this web site, Keep up
    the nice work.

  14. Diabetic Foot Care Guidelines December 26, 2015 at 8:02 p12 #

    The main problem lies in where the fungus is living: under the nail.
    Whether it’s in your neck, back, feet, or any part of the body, our bodies
    should not hurt, and we should not have to compensate for pain. If you don’t know the cause of a
    pain, tap on the image of that pain and you’ll probably get a measure of relief.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: