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Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters

Knockout Twists

We've already talked about using out-of-the-box thinking, turning convention on its head and other techniques to surprise your reader and make your screenplay a more engaging and exciting read (article: Surprise Your Reader)

I'm including a section on knockout twists too because if you can pull one off, you could have the next The Sixth Sense or Fight Club on your hands.

A spec about an alien lurking unseen in suburbia recently sold for six figures. It's not a thrilling read until about the mid-point where there's a hell of a twist. It took me by complete surprise, I hadn't seen it coming which is unusual given I have read thousands of specs. The twist took the story in a totally unexpected and very different direction. It went down a storm with prodco readers and netted the screenwriter a very substantial paycheck.

So always ask yourself: is there something I can do here that would be a fantastic twist?

The Sixth Sense


I'm not a huge fan of horror but Saw had a knockout twist and the story of how the movie got made is an inspirational one for all aspiring screenwriters and directors.

The co-writer and director, James Wan, created Saw with Leigh Whannell (co-writer and actor) who he met at college in Melbourne, Australia. They wrote Saw in their year after college but were not able to attract any financial backers in Australia.

A manager Whannell knew sent the script to the US where an agent read it and wanted to meet the pair. Although Wan was 'flat broke' at the time they managed to raise $4,000 to make a short version of the film to showcase their script - it was shot in three days.

They flew to LA, the agent loved the short.

Two days later, they had approval for an initial budget of $700,000 (the movie would eventually be shot for a million). Wan would direct his co-creation, Whannell would act in it.

Saw would go on to became a global bit, grossing 40x+ times its budget.

It would create a hugely successful global horror franchise and make stars of its creators.

Without that knockout twist, I doubt Saw would have had even a fraction of its success. It would likely not have even been made.

Great examples

Some screenplays with knockout twists:

Some caveats

Don't just throw in a twist for the sake of it. Carefully think about it first. Is it logical? Is it realistic? Will readers genuinely believe it plausible? Will they have that great 'damn, I didn't see that coming' moment. Can you knock them off their seats?

A badly executed or implausible twist can sink a script.

A brilliantly executed plausible one, the sky's the limit...

Related articles on this site

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Amp Things Up

Drama and Conflict

Surprise Your Reader

Set Pieces: Make Them Spectacular

Put your Characters in the Worst Possible Situations

The Stakes: Set Them High

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External links

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Total Film: 30 Greatest Twist Endings

Wikipedia: The Sixth Sense

Wikipedia: Se7en


Wikipedia: James Wan

Wikipedia: Leigh Whannell