5 Common Twists and a Model for Writing Short One Act Plays


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FIVE COMMON TWISTS

microphone by Miyukiko © 2013

microphone by Miyukiko © 2013

Twist endings are the result of a sudden reversal that thwarts the outcome a character has been working towards. There are five common types, three that depend on a surprising revelation and two that depend on the intervention of a surprising event.

In the first three, the desired outcome is thwarted because of

A REVELATION

Mistaken Identity: A woman plans her revenge on the man who cheated her. She crashes her car into him only to discover it was the man’s twin brother who was responsible.

Deceit: A man thinks he is buying an elixir of life but has been lied to by a huxter and it is actually poison.

Misperception: An old man, housebound by age, wants a final look at the world around him only to discover the environment he roams each day is actually a pen in an alien zoo.

AN EVENT

Accident: A bookworm succeeds in a plot to get locked in a special collection of books at the library for one night… and breaks his glasses.

Competing goals: A couple are unhappily married and wish a divorce. Each wants to get the bulk of the assets so would rather the other pre-deceased them. The woman tries to kill her husband with poison, while he rigs the light switch to produce a fatal shock. He dies first but when she goes in to check on the body she turns on the light and kills herself.

With regard to process, and as a general guide, short plays stick to a handful of characters (two or three if possible) and take place in a minimum number of locations (one if possible, but a few more if required).

ONE ACT STRUCTURE

In terms of story structure, I use a model that, roughly, implements half of the scene/sequel model discussed in some of my other posts.

  1. Set the Scene
  2. Introduce the character goal(s)
  3. Introduce an obstacle to the achievement of the goal(s)
  4. Introduce a disaster (the result of a twist if your story has one)
  5. Let the character(s) react
  6. Resolve the story

AN EXAMPLE

Because a story with a twist isn’t dependent on characterization for its success, it can be told very quickly indeed using this model. I’ve mapped a quick adaptation of the misperception plot mentioned above onto the suggested structure…

[SETTING THE SCENE]

NARRATOR: Some say Hell is other people. Today’s story focuses on one such man, old and frail, and just now questioning whether his self-imposed life-long isolation has been worth it. We join him as he pushes his wheelchair around his yard on his bit of daily exercise.

SOUND: OUTDOOR AMBIANCE – BIRDS, A SLIGHT BREEZE, ETC. – ESTABLISH AND UNDER.

SOUND: SQUEAKING OF WHEELCHAIR – UNDER.

BOB: (MUTTERING) I hate bein’ old. I hate pushing this chair around. Time was, I hated the world more, though. Built these high walls so’s I could keep it out. (SNEERING) No “junk mail”. No “TV”. None o’ them blasted “sales-folks” hangin’ on the bell. I thought life was better without seein’ people. Just me ‘n my books…

[GOAL]

BOB: (CONTINUING) But now? Now I want to look outside. Jus’ one las’ time. Not for long, mind you, just for a little, and say goodbye. I’m too sick and too tired for any lies about wantin’ to be remembered. My passin’ won’t even get a notice in one o’ them “newspapers” people used to be so fond of. But I still want to look.

[OBSTACLE]

BOB: (CONTINUING) If it weren’t for this chair it’d be easy… and that blasted grate! I put the grate in across the entry to my property long ago. Didn’t want my neighbour’s cows wandering in. Nice wide grate. The gaps are too wide for cow hooves to navigate. And too wide for this chair to manage. I’d look pretty undignified if the folks who deliver my groceries each week found me lying in the yard with my chair stuck in the grate. (LAUGHING) Heh! They’d love that. They’d finally get to see the mysterious old man living in Chesterfield Lane. More entertainin’ than leaving the groceries on the steps… assuming I weren’t dead of exposure. They only come once a week.

But what do I care o’ dignity? I’m old. There ain’t much dignity in that… and life works hard to steal what little dignity I’ve got left. Just going to the bathroom in this chair’s a major production. Yeah, what do I care about dignity? I’ll do it! I’ll crawl if I have to. My arms are still strong. I’ll crawl, dignity be damned, I’ll see the outside of this place one last time.

SOUND: TIPPING OF CHAIR. THUD OF BODY DROP – LET IT FINISH.

BOB: (IN PAIN) Aaaah. That hurt. Too old. Too old for falls. Still I can move. I can crawl…

(INTERMITTENT GRUNTS AS BOB CRAWLS) Ugh… Argh… Mmmpf… Aaah… Nnnng… etc.

(PANTING) Here’s… the grate… Should’ve got a bit closer before ditching the chair… ah… well… Live and learn.

INTERMITTENT GRUNTS AS BOB CRAWLS) Ugh… Argh… Mmmpf… Aaah… Nnnng… etc.

(PANTING WITH EXERTION) What’s happening? There’s a slope. It feels like it’s curving upwards… and it’s smooth, like glass… Let me just… clear some of this dirt off.

SOUND: RUBBING SOUND – UNDER.

[DISASTER/TWIST]

BOB: What’s under here? It’s… what? No? This can’t be right. It’s a window… a window to … to the stars!

[REACTION]

BOB: (CONTINUING) (PANICKED) Where am I? It… it looks like my house… my yard… but, it ain’t. How long? How long has it been like this? I’m in space, a bubble… a zoo! I’m… (PAIN) My heart! My… Ugh.

[RESOLUTION]

SOUND: BOB COLLAPSES – LET IT FINISH.

ALIEN: (CHITTERING ELECTRONICALLY MODULATED) Oh well. It was getting old. Still it will be hard to find another one to last so long. They tend to be so self-destructive when they find out they’re no longer on earth. I’m surprised this one lasted so many years. I guess we’d better flush the body into space.

NARRATOR: And so ends our little tale. We all know that peace and quiet is a good thing. But when was the last time you had contact with another person? It’s grown awfully quiet while you were listening to this, hasn’t it? Bwahahahaha.

You can also find a set of eight short scripts (available under a creative commons license) that make use of the twist forms discussed in this article at http://weirdworldstudios.com/experimental-plays/ .

What are your thoughts on stories with a twist ending? Do you enjoy them? Why? Why not? What’s the secret of a great story twist? Let us know in the comments below.

This article is © 2017 by Philip Craig Robotham – all rights reserved.