The Surprise Ending - Expect the Unexpected


You pick up a book by an unknown author. From the cover you have some vague idea itís a thriller of some sort. You start reading.

Two sisters, Pat and Jo, are on their way back to their motherís house. Theyíre arguing, unhappy they shared the same boyfriend but have now both lost him.

(Youíre thinking, maybe this storyís about love, loss and forgiveness.)

When they arrive at the house, the motherís not there.

(Maybe itís murder mystery.)

They call the police but they wonít act on a missing person for 24 hours at least. The phoneís suddenly cut off and they hear scuffling outside. Itís dark now, and the sisters are terrified.

(Gasp! Maybe itís a psycho!)

The window upstairs smashes. Timidly, they go to investigate. In the main bedroom, the wind is howling through the broken window. In a mirror, they catch a glimpse of a shadow darting down the corridor. Jo follows but discovers nothing.

(Oh no, what if itís a ghost story.)

Pat decides to leave but Jo wonít let her. The door slams in Patís face as she tries to leave. They fight but Jo restrains her sister. Books fly around the room and furniture overturns.

(This is some kind of weird telekinetic thing going on right?)

The sisters talk. Maybe thereís nothing sinister going on. Itís just like when they were kids and their mother thought they had a poltergeist that one time.


Then, the door is broken down by a hooded figure with an axe.

(Oh no Ė it IS a psycho!)

Theyíre chased around the house until the figure is pushed off the balcony. When they get down to the rain soaked mud outside, itís their mother.

(A twist? Okay, itís a strange story but there were clues, werenít there?)

ďWhere the cloak?Ē Jo looks up and thereís someone else there. The psychoís still alive! They run back into the house, bolt the doors. Oddly, everythingís quiet.

The phone rings. Wasnít it cut off? They answer it. To their relief, itís the ex-boyfriend. But then he says, ĎWonít you let me in? Iím just outside.í

They look out of the window and sure enough, there he is, grinning, hooded, with the axe in his handÖ

Okay, this example is a little crass and melodramatic but the same Ďshock and twistí style of storytelling can be used in any genre... and frequently is nowadays.

The trick is to make various any intervening steps between actions as credible as possible. Donít give out too many clues and use internal monologue to focus on whatís happening in the present rather than helping the reader to second-guess the plot.

There are two ways of doing this.

 1. Make it up as you go along.

The trouble with doing it this way is that youíll end up with all kinds of inconsistencies. Okay, some authors do it. They deliberately put their characters in situations they canít possibly resolve and then, through skill or luck create events to get them out of them!

However, with this approach, youíll likely spend much of your time repairing mistakes in your text Ė after youíve finished your first draft.

2. A much better way is by planning.

Right from the start, do a rough template in note form of where the plot goes, where the twists are and how you will end the story, especially if youíre going to have one final twist that throws the whole story into another, more profound light.

You must know the twist before you start!

Itís the only effective way of diverting attention away from it all the way through the story.

Itís a great technique Ė and itís not only popular with readers, itís a surefire hit with agents, publishers and, of course, movie producers!

Use it and youíll be successful before you know it.

©robparnell 2003