Favourite posts: Seeking the “Twist” for your short story
For the month of December, Write Anything is hosting a retrospective of the posts that have appeared over the past four five years. We hope you enjoy revisiting these posts, as we take stock of where we have come from, and look forward to where we will be heading in the future!
This post first appeared on June 24, 2009 and was written by Annie Evett
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.
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.