The one common refrain I hear from the people that regularly read my stories is that they didn’t see the end coming. That little sting in the tail that I consciously or sub consciously seem to conclude my tales with. This has never been a planned thing. Not at the beginning anyway. Yet, from way back when, I always seemed to enjoy those stories more where I could not predict the outcome. Perhaps at some point I decided that this would be the way my stories would operate too.
Recently I watched ‘Gosford Park’ the much feted 2001 film. Even as I enjoyed the excellent ensemble cast and the central mystery, my overriding feeling was one of disappointment. I guessed who’d done it in the whodunit well before the final reveal. More crushingly, I’d guessed the why as well. Maybe that was not the point of the film, yet I couldn’t help but feel a tad cheated.
Conversely, when I finally got to sit down and marathon watch series 1 of ‘Broadchurch’ , the superlative British drama broadcast on ITV, I had no idea who had committed the crime. The series was littered with red herrings. With a growing cloud of suspicion over nearly every central character, the sting in the tail turned out to be even more venomous along with a complete jaw dropper. Now that was satisfying.
If there are, as claimed, only 7 plot lines to work with, then it gets very challenging for a writer to create an unpredictable denouement. This is even tougher in a short story, as the length of the tale as well as the number of characters are limited. A master of the twist was O. Henry. Within that limited scope he created stories like ‘The Gift of the Magi’ (of a penurious couple that each sell something of great value to themselves, to buy something of value to the other with an ironic but happy end) or ‘The last leaf’ (in which a painting saves a life but also loses another). For many of us, these are school days fodder. Yet the skill that it takes to create an end that no one saw coming is often undervalued.
These days I frequently find myself labouring to create that twist. Why? Because along with everyone else, I seem to have fallen into the trap of believing that this is my USP (unique selling point). Yet, that goes against the very grain of what I started my writing trajectory with. I wanted, more than anything else, to enjoy the process. Success, praise, applause would be very welcome. Yet I refuse to let it become the fountain of my inspiration. Equally, to believe that each of my stories should deliver a shocker at the end is subscribing to someone else’s idea of what my work should be.
So, I have taken a step back, and allowed myself the luxury of letting the story grow organically. I am not trying to strait jacket my characters into behaving to a prescribed formula. If that means they still surprise you at the end, then happy days. If not, I still hope the story stands by itself and for itself.
As always, I remain open to criticism, ridicule and censure…..with a bit of a sting. 🙂