Keep Your Goals Intangible
Want a subject that is certain to generate disagreement between two writers? Ask about twist endings. Some people love a good twist, others think it’s the cheapest form of emotional manipulation known to man. Some screenwriters brilliantly execute twists that delight us at every corner, others use it as a crutch that ultimately hinders their creativity. It’s always been an aspect of storytelling that interests me, as I’ve seen countless twists done well and even more executed poorly. I remain convinced that at their best, twist endings are incredibly fun. But as I learned this week, my ability to execute them remains fuzzy.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m in the (very early) process of developing a play about the end of a friendship. In a nutshell, it’s about a girl who inexplicably cuts her best friend out of her life with no communication, leaving him to figure out what went wrong. Such thoughts begin to consume his life, until one night she appears to him, they relitigate their entire friendship, and they both receive some closure. But in the last second, it’s revealed that she was just a hallucination, and that in his quest for answers, the man imagines this same conversation every night. I was quite excited about the twist when I conceived the play, and my professors gave me some great advice on maximizing its shock value.
Yesterday was a big day for me, as it was the first table read for the play. I had agonized over that very moment for months. I was terrified that people wouldn’t like my dialogue, wouldn’t find the characters sincere, wouldn’t agree with my conclusions…in short, I thought the whole day might be a disaster. But the one thing I had confidence in was that there’d be gasps when the twist was revealed. I had laid so many subtle breadcrumbs in the script, I was convinced that nobody would see it coming.
And in a way, I was right. Nobody saw it coming beforehand, or after.
Twenty minutes into our class discussion of my script, it occurred to me that literally nobody knew how my play ended. The twist came so quickly that not a single person realized it had happened. It was quite a blow. Nobody had issues with the things I was worried about, but my ace in the hole turned out to be the achilles heel of the entire play.
The cruel irony is that it was something of a twist ending to my day.
As I thought more about the script last night, I realized that there is probably no room for a twist ending, and that more information has to be revealed early on. It was a good realization, and will certainly make the play better in the long run. But I was still disappointed that I haven’t figured out how to execute one of the most exciting tropes in entertainment.
As I went to bed, I was ready to put the whole thing behind me. I found myself watching the season finale of one of my favorite new sitcoms (NBC’s The Good Place, if you must know). And I was blindsided by one of the funniest twist endings I’ve seen in a long time. It reminded me of just how effective a good twist can be, and how it is still worth pursuing in the long run. There’s no rush, but as I build a writing career, the perfect twist ending remains a goal on my horizon. I don’t know when I’ll achieve it, but the pursuit of it constantly makes me better.