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Finding the twist for your short story.

June 24, 2009

One of the most enjoyable types of short stories to both read and to create is one with The Twist. An integral part to the art of writing this successfully is to not reveal the crucial line or clues too early. In fact, the later on in the story, the more impact it will have. The unexpected ending, usually with tones of irony or coincidental circumstance; brings a great deal of enjoyment to the reader, despite the initial shock or surprise they may experience with the sudden turn of events.

I would suggest, as a basis for writing a story with a twist, that you include these steps.

Based on :Image:Wikipe-tan sailor fuku.png wit...
Shocked Face  Image via Wikipedia

Stay focused from the start.
There is some debate on the word count for Flash Fiction (The standard, generally-accepted length being under 1000 words) and Short Stories ( usually under 2500 words). Regardless of the length, its best not to waste words, focusing on drawn out build ups to a crisis. In the same way you cannot waste words on giving your characters long winded descriptions of vast backgrounds. The focus for your story is to feed your reader information which will muddle their perception of the events as they unfold and then to offer clarity with the twist you introduce.

Look for a different POV
The twist in your story means that you are leading the readers to certain assumptions without deceiving them, but in the end they discover that they were incorrect. Look at the prompt or inspiration you have for your story and note different perceptions about that ‘thing’ or event. Look at it from animate and non animate points of view and from the eyes of different genres. Perhaps to tell this story you will need to depart from your normal or comfortable genre.

Sketch your Plot Out.
Plot your basic story in a predictable manner ( ie the ending which most readers would expect) Review key events or decisions characters make within the story and look past shallow perceptions to find a deeper, or darker motivation for those events to take place. Keep thinking of misconceptions and different points of view until you come across one you like and then plot the basics of your story. With that knowledge, review the ending and rewrite your sketched out finale. Be sure to decide what your surprise or twist will be before you begin writing your first draft.

The Smoking Gun.
Although there are no hard and fast rules with writing a twist in a story, you must adhere to one of Chekhov’s major principals of the Smoking Gun. “If you fire a gun in Act III, it must be seen on the wall in Act I; and if you show a gun on the wall in Act I, it must be fired in Act III.” To simply pull the rug out from under your readers feet, without solidifying evidence or enough passing references will leave them feeling unsatisfied, confused and in some ways cheated. A good twist uses forshadowing clues enough to wet the appetite and to key the readers in that there may be a surprise ending, but vague enough that many will miss its significance until the end.

Whilst placing your smoking gun in full view of your readers, ensure you also tuck away a few red herrings and some minor clues to the background or motivation of your characters. It’s a fine line in giving clues within your text but try not be too obvious. If readers can guess the outcome too soon they will tire easily of your story and you’ll not gain the outcome you were hoping for.

Although pacing is important and an individual matter, needing to be relevant to the style and genre of your story, refrain from revealing the twist too early in your story. Ensure that once it has been revealed that all pieces are tied up neatly.

Writing a good quality, interesting short story is a skill which many writers bypass in favour of telling their stories in a more verbose format. The art of the Twist in the Tale is both enjoyable for reader and writer to experience and one I hope to see a resurgence for in the near future.

Shocked Face  Image via Wikipedia

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Annie Evett loves weaving a ripping yarn with a good twist. She just hopes she is not abandoned by good story lines any time soon. Catch her growing amount of websites and blogs here
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One Comment
  1. June 24, 2009 8:31 am

    One of the consistent lines of criticism I’ve been receiving over the past few months is that I am not telling enough in the opening of my stories, which is losing my reader and therefore the turn and the twists at the end are losing their impact.

    When you “know” what you want to write and you know the twist and the manner in which it will all play out, it is something hard to know how much is too much and how much is not enough. It is a fine line to walk. I know when I wrote my short story “24” I was certain I was telling too much to the reader – but it turned out to be just enough to get the impact I wanted.

    So I’m going back to the drawing board of making sure I establish character, setting and dropping in the “Magic Box” or as you allude to, Chekhov’s Gun, at the beginning and remembering, like Hansel and Gretel’s trail of crumbs – you do have to leave a trail for your reader to follow.

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