And It Turns Out They’re All Dead
We’ve talked about how books, films and TV series often sell hooks without hope of providing a proper payoff – ‘Lost’ provided one of the lamest examples in years – but many stories are let down by their climaxes. Authors often rush the final chapters of books when they should be slowing down the pace. I’ve been as guilty of this as much as anyone. But the climax is often the start-point for a writer planning a novel.
Hooks are great when they’re worked through carefully. I was disappointed by Guillermo Del Toro’s thriller ‘The Strain’, because it consisted of a strong hook (in a ‘Dracula’ update, an airliner lands at JFK with everyone aboard dead) before padding itself out with dismal stock characters and clichéd dialogue. The trouble is, it’s often tough to top a killer opening scene unless you have a killer twist to match it. I mentioned Tom Tryon in an earlier post, and recall reading his novel ‘The Other’, about a Russian grandmother teaching a dangerous psychic game to two brothers, one gifted, one harmful. The narrative contains a blindsiding mid-tale twist, and was subsequently filmed. (The book has been reissued in a new edition with a contextualising foreword by Ramsey Campbell.)
Twists are a bugger to make fresh. ‘The Orphanage’ and The Orphan’ are just two films that pulled them off; one was classy, one was pulpy, but both worked. I like to have a bash at creating twists from time to time – the one I like best is in ‘Psychoville’, and of course I put plenty of twists in the Brant & May novels. But I’m interested in knowing which books (and films) you think have the best twists, the real jaw-droppers that play fair and make you go back and rethink everything you’ve read. I seem to recall that ‘The Deadly Percheron’ had a good one, and there’s an astonishing novel by Charles McLean called ‘The Watcher’ that has an amazing reveal.There was even a Western I recall that had a great surprise ending called ‘A Big Hand For The Little Lady’. When I’m back in London I’ll check my bookcases for more, but let’s see how many we can get – but let’s not count ‘The Sixth Sense’, which gave its game away in the opening 30 seconds. The moment I saw Bruce Willis with a wig I thought ‘flash-forward’, that means he’s dead.