Does anyone remember O. Henry? I hope so, because he’s one of my favorites. I have his complete works and read them over and over. He’s the master of the twist ending.
If a story is predictable, it’s boring. If I can tell how everything is going to end up when I’m less than half way through, is there any point in finishing reading it?
The same goes for the stories I write. Of course, with a noir story, you know the ending is not going to be rosy, and for a more traditional mystery, the world will end up all right with justice done and evil doers punished. But beyond that, the ending shouldn’t be obvious.
How to avoid writing a story with an obvious, boring ending? I think this is rather easy. Think the story out to the logical, predictable, boring ending. Then don’t use that. Figure out another way for things to end up. Take a different path.
If I can guide the reader toward the first boring ending, then steer them toward the surprise—then spring a completely new ending on them, I’m a happy writer.
Here’s an example.
Elderly woman is killed. Her will leaves everything to her wayward nephew. So he’s the obvious culprit, and I should set up clues pointing to him. Meanwhile, his girlfriend has been introduced. Even though the clues lead to the nephew, the girlfriend is a possibility. She might want the old woman dead so the nephew can get the inheritance and spend more money on her. Maybe she killed the woman.
But the reader has met another character, the brother of the girlfriend. But it turns out he’s not her brother at all, but her lover. They were both leading the nephew on, knowing his aunt had money. The brother/lover is the real killer, and has set up the meeting between the girlfriend and the nephew. Not only that, but this charming pair has done this before, at least twice! They’ve set up the murder to incriminate the nephew, who has made out a will to the girlfriend. Maybe he even gets murdered himself. When the old cases surface, you have the culprits and the solution to the killing.
This kind of stuff makes writing fun!