How to Craft a Twist Ending

Vik Rubenfeld#AskVik3 Comments

@TeresaSantoski asks:

This is such a good question that I’m answering it in three separate blog posts.

There are four keys to a satisfying ending:

  • It must be believable, i.e. accepted by the audience as making sense. 
  • It must be surprising
  • It must be set up by what came before in the story
  • It must pay off the theme of your story

I talked about the first item—it must be believable—in this previous post.

Today I’m going to talk about the next two points:

  • It must be surprising
  • It must be set up by what came before in the story


First, it must be surprising.  Nobody wants to walk out of a movie or a play or finish a novel and say, “what a snoozefest.”

Using the Setup to Create a Surprising Ending

I could write a book about this. Or teach a whole webinar about it. (If you think you might be interested, let me know here or on Twitter, so I can think about doing it).

So, not to write a book about it, but briefly—you can use the setup to create a surprising ending. The idea is to set up the audience’s assumptions in a way that rules out what’s going to happen— without making what ultimately happens a LOGIC BREAK, that is, unbelievable (see the previous post!) Here are some examples. Click the name of a film you have already seen, because the examples give away major spoilers!

Warning: spoilers ahead! Don’t click the name of a film unless you have already seen it.

To sum up—one way or another, you have to get the audience assuming that something has happened or is going to happen. But then something different happens or is found to have happened—and you surprise the audience with a twist they didn’t expect!

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3 Comments on “How to Craft a Twist Ending”

  1. Pingback: The 4 Keys to a Satisfying Ending | Vik Rubenfeld

  2. I can see this as skating on thin ice, depending on how consistent the twist is with the audience’s expectations. Mockingjay may have taken the twist a turn too far if the audience’s emotional investment in Peeta exceeds the shock value of his betrayal. In a way, his brainwashing is like the “oh, by the way, this character was crazy all the time” meme. It explains things, but at a price. Your thoughts?

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