In Michael Jamin’s online screenwriting courses, we learn about different types of writing styles. One popular way of writing is to add an element of surprise. Jamin, however, emphasizes the importance of not confusing your audience when including surprises in your ending. A true surprise requires two things: a subversion of expectations and it builds to a pop or particular moment. If you don’t do that, you’re just confusing your audience and that’s not a surprise.

M. Night Shyamalan is a great example of a masterful screenwriter and director who is well known for his twist endings. Here, you’ll learn five important tips that can help you become a better screenplay writer by exploring five of his movies.

Plant Seeds Early On

In The Sixth Sense, there are several hints throughout the movie that suggest that main character Malcolm (Bruce Willis) is actually dead. For example, he is never seen in mirrors, he doesn’t age, and he never receives mail. These clues are subtle and don’t give away the twist, but they are noticeable enough for the viewer to go back and think, “Oh, now it makes sense!”

Use Misdirection

In Unbreakable, the viewer is led to believe that Elijah (Samuel L. Jackson) is the villain, when in fact he is trying to help David (Bruce Willis) discover his true identity as a superhero. This misdirection keeps the viewer guessing until the reveal at the end.

Pay Attention to Character Motivations

In Split, the main character Kevin (James McAvoy) has dissociative identity disorder, and the twist ending reveals that he is also the Beast, a supernatural entity with powers. This twist is grounded in Kevin’s motivations and conflicts, as he has struggled with his various identities throughout the movie.

Keep it Simple

In The Visit, the twist ending reveals that the elderly couple that the main characters have been visiting are actually their long-lost grandparents, who had been missing for years. This twist is simple and easy to understand, making it all the more effective.

Leave Room for Interpretation

The ending of Signs leaves some things open to interpretation. It is left unclear whether the aliens in the movie were actually trying to invade Earth or if they were just lost and looking for a new home. This creates a sense of mystery and allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

Ready to Write Your Surprise Ending Screenplay?

film and clapperboard used by film industry producers like M. Night Shyamalan

While you may not become the next M. Night Shyamalan overnight, all great screenplay writers start somewhere. So, put your writer’s cap on, and let’s get started! By taking an online screenwriting course from Michael Jamin, another Hollywood screenplay writer, you can learn how to take an idea and turn it into an episode, how to create compelling act breaks, midpoints, and endpoints, how to create dynamic and interesting characters, and so much more!

Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Phil Hudson

Phil Hudson is the Co-Host of Screenwriters Need To Hear This with Micahel Jamin. He's worked on TV & Film projects like Rhett and Link's Buddy System, Quasi, and Tacoma FD, where he is an Associate Producer. Phil has a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Film - Story Development from Santa Fe University of Art & Design, where he was a Robert Redford Scholar.

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