Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Thoughts on storytelling. Part One

The twist ... it can call the shots. The readers of short stories generally expect one. I call it a twist for simplicity, but it can take the form of an epiphany or a revelation. Sometimes the main character is the surprised party. Sometimes the reader. Sometimes both. Novels don’t need to have a twist, although they sometimes provide one (or more).

The issues cracking the whip on twists are time and space. The reader knows a shortie is short and they anticipate a payoff on a timely basis. Parenthetically, many more modern stories don’t have this element or play this game. 

Roald Dahl made a specialty of shorties with surprises, delicious ones, and you should check out the ways he produces his delightful effects. But my favorite example comes from another author. Look at Shirley Jackson’s classic shortie “The Lottery,” and you might learn the most essential thing you need to know about a brilliant twist. What made her story great went beyond the surprise at the end. The story’s twist had something relevant to say. More than 50 years later, we are still scapegoating and punishing; that’s how you know she tapped into something eternal, and horrible, about human behavior.

How to get around the twist problem? Find a way to make your twist, if you use one, mean something that goes beyond the little intake of breath it produces. As writers, we can aim higher, go beyond producing a goosebump or two.


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