This week’s video talks about the pitfalls of the always tempting trick endings.
Most readers love them some good trick endings. How long have people been talking about The Sting or The Sixth Sense? And what author among us wouldn’t like to replicate that kind of excitement and memorability? But there is a big problem with trick endings. When they work, they’re amazing. When they don’t work, they make readers grumpy and the authors look dumb.
This isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to stories with the big, switcheroo, sucker-punch trick endings. To some extent, it can be a problem in any story. If the ending is in any way going to be a surprise, you do not want readers to figure it out ahead of time. The most obvious reason for this is that their figuring it out ruins the surprise. But, more than that, it can ruin the whole book.
That may seem a smidge over-dramatic, but think about it. Let’s use the mystery genre as an example. These are stories that almost always feature a trick ending since the whole point is that the reader not know whodunit before the detective figures it out. But savvy mystery readers are really hard to fool these days. They read the clues just as quickly as the detective, and half the time they’re going to solve the mystery before they finish the book.
In itself, their figuring it all out isn’t the problem. The problem is that, from that point on, the author is obliviously two steps behind the reader. He’s still pretending no one knows what the heck is going on, which means he’s also milking the drama and the mystery of it all for all it’s worth. To a reader who’s already seen the light, that’s just annoying. So how do you
fix it? Well, aside from being aware of the problem, the best way to avoid it is simply to write so incredible an ending that readers never do see it coming.