ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Art of Storytelling - Surprise Endings

Updated on May 13, 2010

Writing is a subjective kind of art. Different people like different things when it comes to the written word. However, there are certain techniques that you can use to improve the quality of a story. While I'm not a published writer, I am fairly experienced, and I know some of these techniques well enough to share them with other aspiring writers. This hub is about making a good surprise or twist ending to your story.

First, I'd like to offer an example of a surprise ending from a classic movie. The Sixth Sense is a highly acclaimed film, and a perfect example of a solid surprise ending. For those who haven't seen the movie, but still want to, what on Earth have you been doing all this time? Anyway, the following paragraph contains massive spoilers, so skip it if you're worried about that kind of thing.

So, at the end of the movie, it is revealed that Bruce Willis' character is actually dead, and in fact has been for almost the entire movie. He was unaware of this fact, as was the audience, because the boy who sees dead people talked to him, so we had reason to believe he was still alive. While this comes as a shock at first, if you go back and watch again, there are numerous scenes that hint at the truth. For example, Willis' wife in the film stops talking to him after he got shot. Unaware that he died, Willis thinks he and his wife are drifting apart, experiencing normal marital problems. In reality, she was crying and wouldn't talk to him because she couldn't see him as his ghost self.

So what do we take away from this?

A Good Surprise Ending

First of all, notice that in the surprise ending of the Sixth Sense, the surprise wasn't just at the end. The ending revealed a critical aspect of the story that was kept secret throughout the movie. Although an unexpected event at the end of the story can be compelling, the best surprise ending usually involves revealing a secret. This can be an event from earlier in the time line, or some fact that was not made obvious to the audience/reader. The point is, it should be something that the writer knows all along and even hints at subtly in the story. This means a reader/viewer can get to the surprise end, and then go back and enjoy the story again by seeing it in a new light.

Of course, this is not to say that a standalone surprise ending can't be good. In fact, a single surprising event can make a great ending if it is well executed.


Didn't see that coming, did you?
Didn't see that coming, did you?

Okay, jokes aside, let's move on.

Next, it's important to consider realism and continuity in the story. You can't end a story with "but it turns out they were really all robots!" Well, unless you're in a sci-fi/fantasy setting, but even then, you can't just pull it out of nowhere. The surprise or twist should be unexpected, but it has to make sense in the context of the story. You can't have a murder mystery and reveal at the end that the killers were martians. I mean, you could, but it wouldn't make a very satisfying ending for the audience/reader. So remember, when you're coming up with a surprise ending, continuity is very important.

Third, let's talk about irony. A great surprise ending is worthless if the reader/audience can clearly see it coming. The ideal surprise ending is the opposite of what the reader was expecting. When you want to really surprise the audience, two things are key. First, while I advocate giving little hints throughout the story, they should only be recognizable as hints if you already know the secret. To the reader, the hints should remain cryptic, making them wonder what it all means. This builds up suspense for the big ending. Secondly, put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Imagine what an average person would expect to happen at this point in the story, and then take the plot in a different direction altogether. Keep in mind, though, that while you want an ending to throw your readers for a loop, it has to make sense in context of the story, like pieces of a puzzle fitting together to reveal a picture. So, just to reiterate because it's very important, always think about continuity when you're constructing your ending.

Well, those are the most important points on a good surprise ending. I'll add more to this hub if I think of more to write, but that's it in a nutshell. To all writers out there, I wish you the best of luck, and keep on writing.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice :D

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 

      8 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      I'm not surprised this is a great Hub..!!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)