Friday, July 9, 2010

Literary Devices Part 4: The O. Henry Ending


I was told recently that I had an O. Henry ending in my last WIP. It's actually for a subplot element that ends in a twist, rather than the main plot, but I didn't realize I'd pulled an O. Henry.

O. Henry was the pseudonym for writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910). He wrote several stories that became famous for their clever twist endings. Here's a classic one, which has been redone in various ways over the years:

"The Gift of the Magi" is about a destitute couple who desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. Unbeknownst to Jim, Della sells her most valuable possession, her beautiful hair, in order to buy a platinum fob chain for Jim's watch; while unbeknownst to Della, Jim sells his own most valuable possession, his watch, to buy jeweled combs for Della's hair. (from Wikipedia)

O. Henry type of twist ending seems to work well in short stories, but I can't seem to think of ones in fiction.

Any books with twist endings of the O.Henry type that you like? Or do twist endings leave a bad taste in your mouth?

48 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

I love a twist ending if I didn't see it coming (it's not really a twist if we anticipate it, is it?).

Matthew Rush said...

I love the surprise at the end of Harry Potter and I think it made for one of the most memorable (and tragic) characters in all of literature. It wasn't a major plot twist though so much as a character twist - still great.

Today's guest blogger is Guinevere Rowell!

Matt "farmboy" Nord said...

Hi Lydia -

Thanks for checking out my blog. I figure it's always good to have a doctor in your corner, and one who has a blog about writing? All the better! I've been thinking about trying to write a YA zombie novella or novel, so I've been looking at people who are already YA writers. Thanks again for following the blog!

- Matt

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Can't think of any in a book, but The Sixth Sense had one of those twist endings.

Ocean Girl said...

The Urban Cowboy and Otin (of the blogsphere) have written amazing twists in their short stories. Can't think of anything else but really what can beat the Sixth Sense (as mentioned by Alex) twist.

Palindrome said...

I can't think of any right now. I guess, Shuttered Island by Dennis LeHayne was a twist for some people but while an awesome book, I figured it out after the prologue.

I like twists and surprises, IF they are done well and you know, if I'm surprised. :)

Clara said...

I love twisted endings and surprises but, it takes a looot of skill to pull them off. One highly twisted ending in my opinion comes from a horror story of Stephen King, who later became a movie called The Mist. Worth checking out, although its one of the most horrific endings I have ever seen in my life (psycologgically speaking).

Actually, Stephen always makes these types of twists, and I think this is one of the many reasons of why he is one of my favourite authors.

Erinn said...

I like the O Henry twists because they make sense and they make you feel good inside.

I hate the twists that feel like that the author was just making it up at the end. "She was a man the whole time, whahahahahaha." If the twist has slight evidence through out the story then I think it's cool.

Giles Hash said...

Cabbages and Kings is a novel with an O Henry twist... but he wrote it.

The latest Dresden Files book ended with a twist, and a cliffhanger.

aspiring_x said...

usually i can see the twists coming, but i still love them! that's one of the fun things about reading- trying to pick up those little clues.

one i read and loved recently (not really the main plot... but sort of...) was The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. there was a big surprise at the end of that one.

It was interesting, because there were hints throughout the book, and i saw the hints- but i didn't want the surprise to be true so much that i was in denial of the hints... which is sort of the thought process the characters are going through also... i thought it was really, really brilliant how able she was to pull us along with her characters.

i thought it was an interesting tactic. write a twist that people won't see coming- because they don't want to. just. like. life... but you know with magic and stuff.

Rachna Chhabria said...
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Rachna Chhabria said...

I love twist endings, though right now I can't seem to think of one example. And O'Henry's short stories are my favourite.

P.S -Is blogger giving you all problems while posting comments from two days. I ended up posting the same comment thrice and when I deleted one, all three got deleted. Strange?!

Mayowa said...

My first novel has one of these twists. I didn't know this was the formal name for the device though.

Thanks for the schooling,

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

Both of my WiP's have twists. I think Wip 1 has a weaker twist, but it's still there. Now Wip 2 has a crazy crazy twist. It's so nuts I'm scared to write it and not do it justice. I had no idea this was the term for it though. I would say although I saw the movie version of Fight Club, the book would have a crazy twist...it's the only thing I've read/watched that totally caught me off guard.
I LOVE twists, but they have to be done right just like anything else.

Joanne said...

I do enjoy a twist ending, particularly if it's not spelled out for the reader, but leaves you thinking about it long after you put the book down.

DEZMOND said...

Ah, those clever twist endings require a great imagination and wisdom, Lydia, so it proves that you have a lot of talent if you managed to achieve such an ending in your novel!

Oh, and I have left you an answer over at HOLLYWOOD SPY on your lovely comment on my layout and avatar :))

J. Kaye said...

Thanks for connecting with me at my insane 365 Days of Novel Writing adventure. It's so nice to meet you!

As far as twists, I do, but only if it works well for the story. That said, I don't like severe cliffhangers. There are some authors who do this and I've avoided reading their books until the entire series has been published.

Great topic!

Carol Kilgore said...

I like good twists. I especially like twists in flash fiction. Like others have said, The Sixth Sense was great because everything was there in the movie but we didn't "see" it until the end.

Amanda Makepeace said...

I remember reading "The Gift of the Magi" many years ago, but I've never heard of that twist ending being called an O. Henry. I'll be on the look out for one of those. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by and following my blog. I love meeting new creative types. :)

Abby said...

It takes a lot of skill to do it right. I loved the way O. Henry did it, but I don't recall any instances where it was done in novels I've read... I like a little element of predictably in the sense that there are little clues, but nothing really apparent so that it's still surprising.

Olivia Carter said...

I LOVE TWIST ENDINGS! I really do- the ones I can see coming, the ones I can't. I adore them.

A couple of my favorites have been mentioned but how about "Luke, I am your father?" in Star Wars. That was pretty UBER. Or the Stature of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes. And then there's the 1970's movie ending of "Soylent Green" EPIC!

Okay, I'll stop there but yes, twist ending are FABULOUS!

Renae said...

As long as it takes me by surprise, I love twist endings. But of course for the life of me I can't think of any right now. I can honestly say I've never heard of them referred to as an O. Henry ending though.

Ann said...

I love a clever twist ending. I can’t think of any off the top of my head right now though. Congrats on the writing compliment!

Tahereh said...

ooooh interesting! i love a good twist!

Jolene said...

As long as the twist ending doesn't involve people waking from a dream... it makes me feel cheated. Like, all this emotional investment for a DREAM??

storyqueen said...

If the twist works...it works!

Maybe "When You Reach Me" has a bit of a twist....

I think of that twilight zone where the aliens have a book called "how to serve man" and the people of earth are so excited that an alien race wants to be their servants...until they realize too late that it is a cookbook.

I do think when it works, it works.

Shelley

Jemi Fraser said...

Of course I can't think of any know - this will probably keep me up tonight! :)

Olivia hit on some of my faves - the Planet of the Apes scene blew me away.

Melody said...

I love twists - but only when they've been carefully plotted out. (Meaning, you can go back through the book and find the clues that pointed to them.) Some twist endings make me feel like the author couldn't figure out what to do...and I don't like reading that.

Holly Ruggiero, Southpaw said...

I like twists but I cannot think of a one since you asked.

Krispy said...

Twist endings only bug me if they're REALLY obvious or if they aren't properly set up. The latter kind make me feel cheated - like the author just pulled that out of nowhere because there is NO POSSIBLE WAY I could've seen that coming. I guess it's all about balance (as many things are).

I think the Sixth Sense sort of ruined that kind of twist for me. I saw Shutter Island this weekend, which has a sort of similar twist, and I've seen the movie, The Others which is also similar. The Others was a pretty creepy movie, but the twist didn't have as much of a wow factor because I'd seen the Sixth Sense.

Munk said...

Fight Club

Sandy Shin said...

Being a mystery fan, I love plot twists and twisty endings, if they're done well. It's a scary thing, because some plot twists, taken too far, can approach deus ex machina. :)

For me, an author who can make plot twists work is Megan Whalen Turner. But there are those who don't agree.

Janna Qualman said...

They surprise me more in movies than in books. I'm not opposed to them though. Like anything, if pulled of well, readers will like it.

Saumya said...

I love Gift of the Magi!! I've never seen an O.Henry twist in a novel, though.

I have an award for you at my blog! Hope your weekend is wonderful :)

Heather said...

I've never heard it called that, but I do love an ending with a great twist! I recently read MISTWOOD, a YA fantasy by Leah Cypess that had a great O. Henry ending.

Melissa Sarno said...

I can't recall a novel that has this kind of twist but now I'm going to keep my eye out. But I do remember several episodes of the Cosby show that had these twist endings! haha

Francine said...

Hi,

The saddest twist ever came in "Harry's Game" a novel by Gerald Seymour and adapted to a TV series: the hero literally dies in the last screen shot!

Oh god, I've never cried as much as I did reading the last few pages of the book, and cried even more watching the last few minutes of the TV drama.

BTW: cheerier note there's some fun cyber bling at my website for crazy novelists!

best
F

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love O. Henry's Magi story--so memorable.
One of my other favorites twist stories was a Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough to Last," adapted from a short story by Lynn Venable. It starred Burgess Meredith as a bookish man, picked on for his obsession with reading. One day he hides to read in a vault at the bank where he works. While there, the world is destroyed by something. When he emerges, he realizes no one is left to harass him, and he goes to the library. The twist comes when he drops his reading glasses and breaks them. There he is with all the time in the world and no way to see his precious words.

Richard said...

We just finished a twist ending-themed contest on the Backspace forums which, I'm thrilled to say, I won! So, I'm now busy shopping my twisty 2800 words for magazine publication :)

Terri Tiffany said...

Oh I know that story but didn't realize that's what they call stories like that--

Terri Coop said...

I love a good twist at the end and have been given the O.Henry compliment on a few of my short stories.

I love another O.Henry tale where a vain woman borrows a diamond necklace so she can show off at a party. She loses the necklace. She manages to find a replacement, but it takes 10 years of menial labor to pay for it. No more parties, no more fancy friends. She meets the friend she borrowed the necklace from and the friend is appalled by her bent back and workerwoman hands. The woman confesses and the friend doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. The lost necklace was a fake, she'd never loan out real diamonds!

Terri
www.whyifearclowns.com

Samantha Bennett said...

Hmmm... I'm a little wary of twist endings personally. Mostly because I'm not sure I could pull one off! But I can think of a few stories that work well with twists... Sixth Sense comes to mind. :)

Nicole Murray said...

M. Night Shyamalan and King are good for twists at the end. I personally love a unforeseen twist that in hindsight the crumbs were left for the reader but we were distracted by the rest of the story. I have done this before and look to do more of these ends.

Anonymous said...

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blog.

Bekah said...

SHutter Island movie wise and now I really want to read the book : )

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I think twists have to be very carefully done, or else I feel cheated. I think that might be why they work better in short stories or movies - the time investment is less.

Great post!

 
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