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Throw away your twist endings

May 27, 2010

Jane Espenson has made a welcome return to blogging, and recently the Drama Queen has been rapping on writing comedy. In a recent post she talked about the importance of throwing away your best jokes:

I realize now that this is what my showrunner on a show called Monty meant when he told us not to put the funniest word at the end of the line, but to make sure the line continued past it.

That advice works well for twist-endings, too.

I have a finished, fairly polished draft of a short film called Auto Karma that has been sitting on the virtual shelf for a few months. A gently comedic morality tale with two strong roles and a single location, I’ve toyed with the idea of filming it myself, but I’ve had a niggling doubt about whether there isn’t something I can do to give it a bit more I-don’t-know-what-exactly.

In its current form, it ends on the big reveal, an unexpected ah-hah! moment that delivers on the theme, and a good chuckle, too, hopefully.

But it leaves a bit of a nice, but so what? feeling, which is a common problem for shorts just a few minutes long.

It means the whole story ends and so stands or falls on the reveal. It’s a fairly blatant da, da! Aren’t I clever! sign-off from the writer, which is probably not the best way to connect with your audience.

The solution is to take the pressure off the reveal – to throw it away like one of your best lines – and write past it, to keep going and put it in its place.

What follows needs to be good, of course, just as good as all that came before the reveal, otherwise it will feel inorganic and tacked on. But when you breeze through your short story and unveil the twist, remember that the hard work is far from over, and that you need to pay-off the reveal to make the whole more satisfying.

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