Ask an Editor: Twist With Caution
In an earlier blog post, I had talked about the shape of stories. As an editor, or basically just someone who reads a lot, I should be able to have a basic idea of the general shape of your story from the first couple of chapters. I should know what kind of book it is, what the feel of it is, and be able to form theories about what might be happening at the end.
Of course, as I read, those theories will evolve and change. But, I should be able to follow a clear line from any point of the story back to the beginning. You need to make sure that your story progression is logical. That means that if you’re going to have some kind of twist ending or shocking reveal, you’re going to need to be careful to make sure that there are hints of this scattered throughout from the first few chapters.
If you do it properly, that means when I reread the book (and I’m a rereader, so I probably will), or if I look back just to double-check something, details will hold up, and in hindsight I’ll be able to see the twist coming. But if you don’t provide those hints and clues, your surprise twist can feel a bit like a deus ex machina instead of feeling organic from the story.
Let’s imagine you’re reading something like a Nancy Drew novel. There’s a mystery, some romance, teen angst, all the great stuff. Then suddenly, 75% of the way through the book, when you should be narrowing down to the culprit, Nancy is suddenly abducted by aliens. Now you’re no longer reading a Nancy Drew novel, you’re in an episode of The X-Files.
Or, and I apologize to anyone who has been desperately trying to forget this movie exists (sorry, Emily!), but have you seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Logistically, this movie should have been awesome. And despite a few hiccups (like if Indiana Jones says there are traps, then there should actually be traps), for the most part the movie is at least entertaining. Then you get to the end. Instead of the vaguely mystical religious object that we have been trained as viewers to expect, it turns out they’ve been fighting over an actual alien head. Because aliens are real. And apparently we’re in an episode of Doctor Who. And, to make things even worse, Indy doesn’t even win. As a viewer, I felt a little bit betrayed. Emily felt even more betrayed. And you as an author need to be careful that you don’t leave your readers feeling betrayed and blindsided.Which is not to say that your ending has to be predictable. It just has to be logical within the world of the story. There’s a difference, promise. But that’s another blog post!
Do you have a question for one of our editors? Let us know in the comments!