Afro Horror: 3 Steps to Crafting the Perfect Twist Ending
September 11, 2020
The year is 1999 and The Sixth Sense was just released. Everyone, including nine-year-old me, is talking about that shocking twist ending. Bruce Willis is a ghost? Who saw that coming? Who could ever top that? Well, you could! The twist ending has been a staple in the horror genre since Sleepaway Camp, and it’s not over yet. Here are three tips on how you can craft the next great horror twist ending.
1. SET UP, SET UP, SET UP
The key to a great twist ending is the first act. In that time, you need to introduce us to compelling characters, build their world, and set up the (preferably layered) problem or obstacle. All of this has to be accomplished so that the audience is invested enough in your story to actually care what happens in the third act. My favorite part of watching horror films are the first act. Who are these people? What are they hiding? Who or what are they running from? It’s in these first fifteen or so minutes where you get to see the characters outside of the Big Bad which will soon define them, so make sure you carefully craft your first act to be all about your characters and their world in a way that will hook the audience's attention—and keep it.
2. DISTRACTIONS, DISTRACTIONS, DISTRACTIONS
Also known as the subtle misdirect—and I mean SUBTLE. In order to have an effective twist ending, you have to slowly submerge your audience into the world like you would a piece of fish into a bath of hot oil during a deep fry. They go in one way and come out another, but the moment they feel the heat, the jig is up! A lot of horror writers will use red herrings as a literary device to help keep the audience on their toes, and while I ultimately agree with this, I will say for a big impact ending, less is more. The worst thing you can do as a writer is underestimate your audience, especially in horror. The audience is smart! They are always on the lookout for the bad guy, the answer, the ending. Injecting small misdirects that cut off their theories on how the movie ends will make for a more effective twist.
You’ve done all this work and now you’re ready to blow your load. But WAIT! It’s very tempting to want to give your audience all the answers at the peak of your third act, but even then, don’t give in. The best twist endings I’ve ever watched have been in the last two minutes of the movie, leaving me in my seat completely flabbergasted. One example that comes to mind is 2017’s Life, which if you haven’t seen it yet, I demand you go rent it now. The last 30 seconds of the film is probably one of the most horrifying endings to a movie I’ve ever seen. No joke, I literally had a full panic attack during the credits. It affected me that much. You want your audience to have the taste of disbelief in their mouths when they’ve finished your script, so hold on until the very last moment and then leave them guessing.
Endings are the most important part to any film and that’s why they’re so hard. You can have a perfect movie, but if the ending isn’t satisfying, that’s all the audience will remember. On the other hand, you can have a seemingly mediocre film and a brilliant twist ending will win over any doubt the viewer had. At the end of the day, just remember the best twist ending is the one that’s completely unexpected. As long as you keep them guessing, you’re sure to succeed!
Written by: Sade' SellersSade’ Sellers is a screenwriter and producer based in Burbank, California. Originally from Michigan’s capital, Lansing, Sade’ has been working in the entertainment industry since 2009. In 2017, Sade’ was a finalist for Tv One’s Screenwriting competition for her teleplay The Replacement. This achievement motivated the network to hire her as a writer for their upcoming movie of the week event, Deadly Dispatch, which premiered on the platform in the summer of 2019. Through that production process, Sade’ met casting director Leah Daniels-Butler who was in the midst of staffing her production company, 1oneninety5. Sade’ then rose to the role of Vice President of Content Acquisitions and Development and spent the next year learning the ecosystem of film and television development from pitching to production. Using that experience, and bound at home due to COVID-19, Sade’ made a return to her first love, screenwriting, utilizing her free time to write new content. www.sadesellers.com