Most stories begin with a straightforward premise and then it twists or changes near the end. This twist is where we learn the villain’s true goal. In “Die Hard,” the premise seems to be that terrorists have taken over a skyscraper. The twist later is that the terrorists plan to blow up the hostages on the roof because they’re recalling corporate robbers intent on cracking open a vault to retrieve bonds. So the initial goal may seem to be a terrorist attack but it turns out it’s really a corporate theft instead.
In “The Shawshank Redemption,” the story appears to be about a man sent to prison for killing his wife. The twist occurs when we find out the hero is actually innocent and the warden plans to keep him trapped in prison anyway.
Not all movies have a twist in the plot. “Star Wars” simply hides the true goal of Darth Vader until the end. That’s when we learn his real goal is to destroy the rebel base. Initially, we knew Darth Vader was searching for something but we never know what it is until near the end when we learn R2D2 has the stolen Death Star plans.
The best way to plan for a twist in the plot is to decide what your story will be about right from the start. Then start your story by deceiving the audience into thinking your story is really about something else. If you write your story without a clear ending, you risk writing a straightforward story with no twist. The end result will likely be a boring story.
Start with your ending in mind. Then deceive the audience what your story is about right from the start. Finally near the end, reveal what your story has been about all along.
In “Rocky,” everyone thinks the story is about Rocky fighting for the heavyweight champion of the world. It’s not. The real story is Rocky fighting to prove he’s not a bum. Right before Rocky goes into the fight, he knows he can’t win, but he can stay on his feet for the entire fight, which is something no other fighter has ever done against Apollo Creed. Although Rocky loses the fight, he wins the respect of the whole world.
So here’s the simple formula for writing a story:
- Identify your ending.
- Deceive the audience in the beginning so they think your story is about something else.
- Reveal the twist near the end.
- End your story the way you planned right from the start.
Deceiving your audience is part of the fun of story telling. Audiences want to be deceived because that’s part of what makes a story interesting to follow. A straightforward story is boring with no surprises so by deceiving your audience in the beginning, you can create a bigger twist or surprise near the end.