oooh have you ever done a post about the ridiculous mandatory twist endings in old sci-fi and horror comics? Like when the guy at the end would be like "I saved the Earth from Martians because I am in fact a Vensuvian who has sworn to protect our sister planet!" with no build up whatsoever.
Yeah, that is a good question - why do some scifi twist endings fail?
As a teenager obsessed with Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, I bought every single one of Rod Serling’s guides to writing. I wanted to know what he knew.
The reason that Rod Serling’s twist endings work is because they “answer the question” that the story raised in the first place. They are connected to the very clear reason to even tell the story at all. Rod’s story structures were all about starting off with a question, the way he did in his script for Planet of the Apes (yes, Rod Serling wrote the script for Planet of the Apes, which makes sense, since it feels like a Twilight Zone episode): “is mankind inherently violent and self-destructive?” The plot of Planet of the Apes argues the point back and forth, and finally, we get an answer to the question: the Planet of the Apes was earth, after we destroyed ourselves. The reason the ending has “oomph” is because it answers the question that the story asked.
My friend and fellow Rod Serling fan Brian McDonald wrote an article about this where he explains everything beautifully. Check it out. His articles are all worth reading and he’s one of the most intelligent guys I’ve run into if you want to know how to be a better writer.
According to Rod Serling, every story has three parts: proposal, argument, and conclusion. Proposal is where you express the idea the story will go over, like, “are humans violent and self destructive?” Argument is where the characters go back and forth on this, and conclusion is where you answer the question the story raised in a definitive and clear fashion.
The reason that a lot of twist endings like those of M. Night Shyamalan’s and a lot of the 1950s horror comics fail is that they’re just a thing that happens instead of being connected to the theme of the story.
One of the most effective and memorable “final panels” in old scifi comics is EC Comics’ “Judgment Day,” where an astronaut from an enlightened earth visits a backward planet divided between orange and blue robots, where one group has more rights than the other. The point of the story is “is prejudice permanent, and will things ever get better?” And in the final panel, the astronaut from earth takes his helmet off and reveals he is a black man, answering the question the story raised.