By Marlo Schalesky
Imagine with me . . . It’s your birthday. You run some errands around town, see some friends. A few murmur a “happy birthday,” most don’t. Your spouse or a friend takes you to dinner. The waiters bring a sorry looking little cake; they sing a song, you get a gift. And that’s it. Happy birthday. No big deal.
Then you go home. You unlock the door. Turn on the light. SURPRISE! There are all your friends and family with big grins on their faces, gifts on the table, and beautiful cake, streamers and balloons everywhere.
In that moment, the entire day is cast into a different light. That friend who you thought forgot your birthday, didn’t. The dinner you thought was supposed to be the pinnacle of your celebration, wasn’t. That was just an excuse to get you out of the house. As you think back on your day, the people you saw, the things you did, you see them differently – you see them as they really were, not just as they seemed.
That’s the point of a surprise ending. It’s not just to make the reader say, “Ooo, I didn’t see that coming!” It’s to help the reader see the whole story different, more deeply, with more nuance and understanding. For a twist to truly work within the story, it has to take the story to a deeper level when it’s revealed. It’s not just a twist for the sake of a twist, but a tool to expand and deepen the theme and characters.
Think about the movie A Beautiful Mind. When we find out Charles is only in John Nash’s imagination, we’re caught by surprise. But more than that, we’re then driven back to reevaluate their early interactions in the movie, and in doing so, we understand so much more about Nash’s character. Similarly, in the movie The Sixth Sense, the surprise twist reveals the depths of Bruce Willis’ character in a new way. We understand more, we see more. We say “Aha!”
That’s why I write love stories with a twist. I want to give my readers more than just “boy meets girl, falls in love, conflict, and happily ever after.” I want readers to relish the story, then at the end see it again as if for the first time – see it in a new and deeper way. I want a twist that will surprise and delight, but also reveal truths about the story and characters that speak directly to the heart of what the story’s really all about.
For example, in my latest love story with a twist, Beyond the Night, the surprise twist at the end (which I won’t give away here – you’ll just have to read it for yourself! : ), is meant to both underscore the power of the characters’ love for each other and add intensity to the theme of defeating fear in our lives. It’s supposed to move the reader to feel the heart of the story, to experience the story at a deeper level.
The challenge of course is finding a twist that both makes sense out of the story and yet really is a surprise to most readers. For that balance, I shoot for about 5-10% of my readers “getting” the twist before the end, leaving 90-95% totally caught by surprise. If a few readers who are looking for a twist actually guess it, I know I have enough subtle clues sprinkled within the story and the twist is one that grows out of the context of the characters and doesn’t feel “tacked on.”
In the end, for a twist to truly work, it has to serve the story. It can’t be just a twist for the sake of a twist. That’s my goal for every “love story with a twist” that I write – for the ending to make the story more breath-taking, more impacting, and more gripping. And I know I’ve reached that goal if the ending makes the reader want to turn back to the beginning of the book and read it again with new eyes.
Read a review of Beyond the Night here.
About Marlo . . .
Besides running and managing her own construction consulting firm, Marlo Schalesky is the award winning author of six books, including her latest novel BEYOND THE NIGHT, which combines a love story with a surprise ending twist to create a new type of story. She has also had over 600 articles published in various magazines, had her work included in compilations such as Dr. Dobson’s Night Light Devotional for Couples, and is a regular columnist for Power for Living. Marlo recently earned her Masters degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary (and LOVES to read the New Testament in Greek!) and is currently working on more “Love Stories with a Twist!” for Waterbrook-Multnomah Publishers, a division of Random House. She lives in Salinas, California with her husband and four young daughters.
Find out more about Marlo and her books (including a cool book trailer for Beyond the Night, an audio message, and a fun tour of Stanford University) on her website.
Also, check out her blog “Tales of Wonder”.