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Twist ending

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Twist ending

A twist ending or surprise ending is an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, and which often contains irony or causes the audience to reevaluate the narrative or characters. A twist ending is the conclusive form of plot twists. -- (Source: Twist ending at Wikipedia ) (e)
Planet of the Apes - It was Earth all along.jpg
Planet of the Apes: It was Earth all along!

Types of twist endings

  • Canceling actions -- An action, usually by a non-viewpoint character, cancels out the primary or significant action of the viewpoint character.
  • Finding god
  • Genre contradicted
  • Pattern broken
  • Pattern reveal
  • Unexpected character
  • Unexpected setting
  • Unexpected viewpoint
  • Nullification reveal -- The reveal at the end, i.e. the new "fact(s)", make the prior tension of the story moot or irrelevant.

Issues with twist endings

It isn't sufficient that a twist ending lie within the realm facts, it should also lie within the psychological "facts" of the characters.

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From Wikipedia

From Twist ending at Wikipedia

A twist ending or surprise ending is an unexpected conclusion or climax to a work of fiction, and which often contains irony or causes the audience to reevaluate the narrative or characters. A twist ending is the conclusive form of plot twists.

Mechanics of the twist ending

Literary devices

Anagnorisis, or discovery, is the protagonist's sudden recognition of their own or another character's true identity or nature. Through this technique, previously unforeseen character information is revealed. A notable example of anagnorisis occurs in Oedipus Rex: Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother in ignorance, learning the truth only toward the climax of the play.[1] This technique is very commonly used in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, where the main antagonist's identity is usually disguised as an ally to the protagonist until the very end (or vice-versa).The truth. The earliest use of this device as a twist ending in a murder mystery was in "The Three Apples", a medieval Arabian Nights tale, where the protagonist Ja'far ibn Yahya by chance discovers a key item towards the end of the story that reveals the culprit behind the murder to be his own slave all along.[2][3]

Flashback, or analepsis, is a sudden, vivid reversion to a past event. It is used to surprise the reader with previously unknown information that provides the answer to a mystery, places a character in a different light, or reveals the reason for a previously inexplicable action. The TV show Lost utilizes this technique frequently, as the show's mythos relies heavily on flashbacks. The finale of its third season used a twist on the flashback revelation; a flashforward revelation. The acclaimed Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie also employed this type of twist ending. Another example of reversing a flashback for dramatic effect is used in the anime film Grave of the Fireflies. See also Racconto.

An unreliable narrator twists the ending by revealing, almost always at the end of the narrative, that the narrator has manipulated or fabricated the preceding story, thus forcing the reader to question their prior assumptions about the text. This motif is often used within noir fiction and films, notably in the film The Usual Suspects (which produced multiple imitators such as The Rich Man's Wife and Lucky Number Slevin). An unreliable narrator motif was employed by Agatha Christie in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a novel that generated much controversy due to critics' contention that it was unfair to trick the reader in such a manipulative manner [4].

Peripeteia is a sudden reversal of the protagonist's fortune, whether for good or ill, that emerges naturally from the character's circumstances. Unlike the deus ex machina device, peripeteia must be logical within the frame of the story. An example of a reversal for ill would be Agamemnon's sudden murder at the hands of his wife Clytemnestra in Aeschylus' The Oresteia. An example of a reversal for good would be the transition of Wart from subservience to sovereignty in The Sword and the Stone. Another earlier example of a reversal for good is at the end of the Peripeteia is an extreme type of plot point.

Deus ex machina is a Latin term meaning "god out of a machine." It refers to an unexpected, artificial or improbable character, device or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction to resolve a situation or untangle a plot. In Ancient Greek theater, the "deus ex machina" ('ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός') was the character of a Greek god literally brought onto the stage via a crane (μηχανῆς—mechanes), after which a seemingly insoluble problem is brought to a satisfactory resolution by the god's will. In its modern, figurative sense, the "deus ex machina" brings about an ending to a narrative through unexpected (generally happy) resolution to what appears to be a problem that cannot be overcome. This device is often used to end a bleak story on a more positive note. Sometimes, the deus ex machina approach is used to end a story on a non-positive note, as in Catherine Breillat's A ma soeur.

Irony creates a gap or incongruity between what the writer presents and what is understood. This often works in narratives to create a twist of fate, in which an eventual event reverts back to a previous one. An example of this would be the self-fulfilling prophecy, such as the story of Krishna, where King Kamsa is told in a prophecy that a child of his sister Devaki would kill him. In order to prevent it, he imprisons both Devaki and her husband Vasudeva, allowing them to live only if they hand over their children as soon as they are born. He murders nearly all of them one by one, but the eighth child, Krishna, is saved and raised by a cowherd couple, Nanda and Yasoda. After growing up and returning to his kingdom, Kamsa is eventually killed by Krishna. It was Kamsa's attempt to prevent the prophecy that led to it becoming a reality. The Indian science fiction film Krrish is a modern take on the story of Krishna.

Poetic justice is a literary device in which virtue is ultimately rewarded or vice punished in such a way that the reward or punishment has a logical connection to the deed. In modern literature, this device is often used to create an ironic twist of fate in which the villain gets caught up in his/her own trap. For example, in C. S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy, Prince Rabadash climbs upon a mounting block during the battle in Archenland. Upon jumping down while shouting "The bolt of Tash falls from above," his hauberk catches on a hook and leaves him hanging there, humiliated and trapped. A more recent example of poetic justice is in the film The Departed, in which Sullivan (Matt Damon), the cop who is a double agent for the mafia, is ultimately and unexpectedly killed for his crimes. Sullivan somewhat expects his poetic justice; when he confronts his killer, he says the movie's last line: "...Okay."

Chekhov's gun refers to a situation in which a character or plot element is introduced early in the narrative, then not referenced again until much later. Often the usefulness of the item is not immediately apparent until it suddenly attains pivotal significance. A perfect example of this is the tapir trap in Apocalypto, which serves as a way to fool and stop the Holcane leader from chasing Jaguar Paw permanently. A similar mechanism is the "plant," a preparatory device that repeats throughout the story. During the resolution, the true significance of the plant is revealed. Both Chekhov’s gun and plants are used as elements of foreshadowing. Villains in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! were often Chekhov's guns—they would be introduced early on as "innocuous secondary characters" (as remarked by Jason Fox), then ignored until they turned out to be the one in the scary costume driving people away to get at a hidden fortune.

A red herring is a false clue intended to lead investigators toward an incorrect solution. This device usually appears in detective novels and mystery fiction. The red herring is a type of misdirection, a device intended to distract the protagonist, and by extension the reader, away from the correct answer or from the site of pertinent clues or action. An example would be the way such information is used in the film Saw (2004).[5]. TV series Law & Order and its spin-off, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit use red herrings repeatedly in several episodes. The Indian murder mystery film Gupt: The Hidden Truth cast many veteran actors who had usually played villainous roles in previous Indian films as red herrings in this film to deceive the audience into suspecting them. A red herring can also be used as a form of false foreshadowing.

A cliffhanger is an abrupt ending that leaves the main characters in a precarious or difficult situation, creating a strong feeling of suspense that provokes the reader to ask, "What will happen next?" Cliffhangers often frustrate the reader, since they offer no resolution at all; however, the device does have the advantage of creating the Zeigarnik effect. A cliffhanger is often employed at the end of an installment of serialized novels, movies, or in most cases, TV series. A literal cliffhanger can be seen at the end of The Italian Job. also R.L Stein's Goosebumps (children's book series), often utilizes this technique.

In medias res (Latin, "into the middle of things") is a literary technique in which narrative proceeds from the middle of the story rather than its beginning. Information such characterization, setting, and motive is revealed through a series of flashbacks. This technique creates a twist when the cause for the inciting incident is not revealed until the climax. Perhaps the earliest notable instance of this technique's use is in The Iliad, which begins in medias res, about nine and a half years into the ten year Trojan War. This technique is used effectively within the film The Prestige in which the opening scenes show one of the main characters drowning and the other being imprisoned. Subsequent scenes reveal the events leading up to these situations through a series of flashbacks. In medias res is often used to provide a narrative hook.

Nonlinear narration works by revealing plot and character in non-chronological order. This technique requires the reader to attempt to piece together the timeline in order to fully understand the story. A twist ending can occur as the result of information which is held until the climax and which places characters or events in a different perspective. Some of the earliest known uses of non-linear story telling occur in The Odyssey, a work that is largely told in flashback via the narrator Odysseus, and in the Mahabharata, also told in flashback via the narrator Vyasa. The nonlinear approach has been used in works such as the films Highlander, Mulholland Drive, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Memento, the Saw series and the books Catch-22 and The Corrections.[6][7]

Reverse chronology works by revealing the plot in reverse order, i.e., from final event to initial event. Unlike traditional chronological storylines, which progress through causes before reaching a final effect, reverse chronological storylines reveal the final effect before tracing the causes leading up to it; therefore, the initial cause represents a "twist ending." Examples employing this technique include the film Irréversible and the color sequences from the film Memento, and the play "Betrayal" by Harold Pinter.

Repetition is a plot device in which the events that have taken place continue to repeat themselves, sometimes with different characters. Examples include several Arabian Nights tales such as "The City of Brass"[8] and "The Three Apples",[9] the Twilight Zone episode Dead Man's Shoes, Twelve Monkeys.

Actions which are out of character, i.e., inconsistent with a character's previously established characterization, are usually seen as negative, possibly destructive to the narrative's credibility and foundation, and possibly indicative of the writer's lack of focus. Plot holes may emerge when a twist ending is utilized at the story's conclusion. Narratives may have a twist ending purely for shock value and may, as a result, become inconsistent with events that occurred earlier in the story. This also causes disruptions in continuity. The reader may experience confusion if the twist ending is unnecessarily complex, possibly providing too many twists or a twist that does not make sense within the context of the story. As a result, the reader will not understand what has occurred and will be left unsatisfied. Some authors may use confusion as a deliberate device, meaning that the reader (or viewer) can only fully understand the story by re-reading or re-watching. Examples include the works of Gene Wolfe, and the film Primer. This is sometimes the intention of postmodern stories, an example being Hideo Kojima's video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.[10][11]

Narrative elements

Amnesia (particularly retrograde amnesia, the inability to recollect long-term memories) is often used to create mysteries in which the protagonist must attempt to recover his or her identity. Usually his quest leads him to surprising revelations about himself and others. The protagonist may also experience strong feelings of paranoia, since he is unsure whom he can trust. The earliest example of this plot element is Kālidāsa's Sanskrit drama, The Recognition of Shakuntala, in which Dushyanta is cursed to completely forget his wife Shakuntala; his memory returns by the end of the story when he finds the signet ring he had given her. Another example is the film Spellbound, in which the protagonist has amnesia. The film Memento alters the standard technique slightly, using reverse chronological order to depict a character with anterograde amnesia. Repressed memory, Alzheimer's disease, and Lacunar amnesia may also be employed in a similar fashion.[12][13][14][15]

In a narrative with multiple antagonists, the reader is led to believe there is one villain when in fact there are two or more, a fact that is usually not revealed until the climax. The first Scream film is a notable example of this. The earliest example is in "The Three Apples", a murder mystery in the Arabian Nights, where the reader is led to believe there is only one culprit responsible for the murder until near the end of the story when it is revealed that there was, besides the murderer himself, an instigator who provoked him to commit the murder.[16][17] Agatha Christie utilized this ploy several times in her mysteries by revealing the murderer (through her detective/narrator), then going on to reveal the murderer's accomplice(s). The film Saw II reveals that Amanda was not a victim of the games, but an apprentice. In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the villain you chase most of the game turns out to be a henchman of sorts to Link's arch-enemy Ganondorf.

Betrayal, also called the "double cross," is when one character trusts another character for most of the story, only to have that trust betrayed later in the story. Betrayal can become more complex when the writer chooses to have the character who was double-crossed betray the other character as well, then referred to as a "triple cross." Writers rarely employ more counter-betrayals, as it is considered to be overly complex, such as in the films Employee of the Month (2004) and Circus (2000) in which the characters cross one another several times.

The dispelling of a character shield through the death of a major character almost always shocks the audience because it is relatively uncommon for the protagonist or other major character to die. In some franchises, character shields are valid only for the duration of a single film, as major characters are killed off to wipe the slate clean for a new film.The truth. This technique is frequently overused in daytime drama, where there actor turnover is high.

Conspiracies use rumors, lies, cover-ups, propaganda and counter-propaganda to frustrate the characters and to obscure the truth and reality. Conspiracies in fiction can be similar to simulated reality in that hidden organizations manipulate what the characters perceive to be true and factual. Conspiracies are often used in political thrillers as means to provide commentary upon a governmental system (such as John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate and Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View). False perception of conspiracy is one form of paranoia. A double-twist on the conspiracy element is used in the Richard Donner film Conspiracy Theory, in which the viewer is challenged to determine which of the conspiracies are real. The video games Deus Ex and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty also make notable use of this twist, forcing the protagonist to decide which path is a conspiracy.

Dissociative identity disorder (formerly "multiple personality disorder" and often incorrectly called schizophrenia) typically involves the protagonist's ultimate discovery that the killer they have been searching for is in fact themselves, a fact of which their disorder made them unaware. This disorder often manifests in the protagonist's perception of other characters who are not really there. Dissociative identity disorder is used most notably in Robert Bloch's Psycho, which was so effective in its execution of the twist ending that it inspired a stream of imitations, almost to the point of overuse and cliché (such as William Castle's Homicidal and several Hammer Film Productions such as Maniac and Nightmare). Other examples include Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, French film Switchblade Romance/Haute Tension, the Robert De Niro film Hide and Seek, Stephen King's Secret Window, Secret Garden, and Joel Schumacher's The Number 23. For more examples, see Dissociative identity disorder in fiction.

A dream sequence can be used to create a twist ending when the writer reveals that a significant portion of the previous narrative was actually a dream, a combination of flashbacks, fantasies, and visions that created a sort of simulated reality initiated by the character's own mind. An early example of this twist ending was used in Jacob's Ladder. Film director David Lynch is also known for utilizing this element, most notably within his film Mulholland Drive. In Terry Gilliam's Brazil ("The Director's Cut"), the drive-into-the-sunset, happy ending scene turns out to be a dream. In the final episode of the television sitcom Newhart, it is revealed that the entire series was simply a dream in the mind of Bob Newhart's character from his earlier sitcom The Bob Newhart Show. Another example would be the television series St. Elsewhere, which created controversy when the final episode revealed that the entire series occurred only in the imagination of Tommy Westphall.

Gender confusion creates a twist ending by revealing at a pivotal moment that a particular character is not of his or her apparent sex, as when a woman has been masquerading as a man, or vice versa. This motif is notably used in The Crying Game, Sleepaway Camp and in the Italian giallo genre. See also Transsexualism and Transgender.

Multiple births can create a twist ending when a character is revealed to have an identical twin or even identical triplets. Often the conclusion reveals that the siblings were working together throughout the narrative, unbeknownst to the other characters. Multiple birth resolutions are common in many works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Other examples include The Prestige, House of Wax. See also Evil twin.

In the puppetry twist, the protagonist discovers that another character is only a puppet being controlled by a puppeteer, rather than the actual human being they appear to be. This technique dates back to the Arabian Nights tale of "The City of Brass", where travellers are seduced by stringless marionettes who are later revealed to be worked by magicians who set them as bait for naive travellers.[18] This element is now most often found within horror fiction. An episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled The Glass Eye twisted this further, revealing that the story's puppeteer was the puppet, while the puppet was the actual puppeteer. A more recent example is the horror film Dead Silence, in which a character who appears to be alive is revealed to be dead, his corpse having been turned into a puppet.

A quibble occurs when a character discovers a crucial flaw or technicality that changes an expected outcome. For example, in the Shakespeare play The Merchant of Venice, Shylock's triumph appears certain until Portia observes that his bargain called only for flesh, effectively preventing him from shedding Antonio's blood. In Ruddigore, the baronets of a certain line are doomed to die if they do not commit a horrible crime every day; however, by failing to commit a crime, they are effectively committing suicide, which is a horrible crime.

The Rashomon effect (named after Akira Kurosawa's film Rashōmon) refers to the way that the subjectivity of perception affects recollection, i.e., multiple observers produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of the same event because they perceive the event in different ways. This concept works in film and literature by altering key elements and details to present a single event as unfolding in different ways, according to the perceptions of different characters. Some recent examples include Courage Under Fire, A Very Long Engagement, The Outrage , Hero and Vantage Point. Even an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has an episode completely dedicated to this: Rashomama.[19]

In a self-deception twist, it is revealed that a character was not only deceiving other characters or possibly the audience, but also themselves; for example, in the film Memento, it is revealed in the film's climax that, although throughout the film it appeared that the protagonist was actually hunting for his wife's murderer (which was hindered by his anterograde amnesia), actually he had already discovered who was responsible for her death, but convinced himself otherwise so as to give his life direction and meaning.

Simulated reality describes a situation in which a hypothetical environment is experienced as real but is actually a highly-detailed simulation of reality and not reality itself. Narratives that utilize this plot element usually present the simulated world as a real setting, not revealing its true nature until the end. This motif is found in science fiction literature (most notably in Philip K. Dick's works), science fiction films (such as The Thirteenth Floor, The Matrix films and The Game), anime (including Megazone 23, Ghost in the Shell and Zegapain) and video games (such as Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty), as the simulated world is usually created through technological means.

Species reversal creates a twist ending by leading the audience to believe that a character is human until the climax, at which point they are revealed to be an animal, supernatural being or alien or vice versa. The character's true nature is revealed through metamorphosis (biological change), shapeshifting (supernatural or magical change), or mere costuming (such as in Men In Black, in which some humans are simply aliens wearing disguises). Species reversal is a common motif of Gothic fiction, such as Ann Radcliffe's A Sicilian Romance in which apparently supernatural events have rational explanations, the children's animation series Scooby Doo, and science fiction, such as Edmond Hamilton's story The Dead Planet and the episode of The Twilight Zone, Eye of the Beholder. Goosebumps author R. L. Stine has employed this in several of the Goosebumps novels such as My Best Friend Is Invisible and Welcome to Camp Nightmare.

See also


  1. John MacFarlane, "Aristotle's Definition of Anagnorisis." American Journal of Philology - Volume 121, Number 3 (Whole Number 483), Fall 2000, pp. 367-383.
  2. citation|title=Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights|first=David|last=Pinault|publisher=Brill Publishers|year=1992|isbn=9004095306|pages=95-6
  3. citation|title=The Arabian Nights Reader|first=Ulrich|last=Marzolph|publisher=Wayne State University Press|year=2006|isbn=0814332595|pages=241-2
  5. - Red Herring
  6. Adrienne Redd, Nonlinear films and the anticausality of Mulholland Dr., Prose Toad Literary Blog
  7. Plots Inc. Productions
  8. Rogers, Tim (2004). Dreaming in an Empty Room: A Defense of Metal Gear Solid 2. insert credit. Retrieved on 30 January, 2007.
  9. Chris Zimbaldi, Dr. Konkle (April 30, 2004). Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a Post-Modern Tragedy. Archived from the original on 2008-09-20. Retrieved on 2007-02-21.
  10. Memory Loss & the Brain
  11. Memento, Movies and Memory
  12. Messing with the mind: Several movies are zeroing in on the loss of memory and its effects
  13. Metaphilm - Forget, Memory


Also See

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  • twistending at (, Fritz)
  • 50 Best and Worst Twist Endings in Movies | Top Movies (Film, Movie, TwistEnding, List, Best, Worst)
  • Earth All Along - Television Tropes & Idioms (Plot, Twist, TwistEnding, TvTropes)
    A variety of the Tomato Surprise, in which at the very end of a Speculative Fiction story, the apparently alien setting turns out to be the Earth, warped and twisted by disaster, disease, the passage of time, or some other instrument of drastic change. Almost invariably this involves a character who was sure he was anywhere but Earth discovering the Awful Truth. This trope used to be called the Planet Of The Apes Ending, for the famous concluding scene of the original 1968 version of Planet of the Apes, where the revelation that the hero is back home comes when he comes across the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, which acts as The Constant. (The 2001 remake, while treading the same ground, uses a quite different ending based on that of the original French SF novel.) At some point, this actually was very shocking (partially because humanity was very close to blowing itself up in the 1960s) and is one of the most famous kinds of Twist Ending. Through over-use, these days,
  • Outer Limits Twist - Television Tropes & Idioms (TvTropes, Plot, TwistEnding)
    A Twist Ending that serves no purpose other than to be excessively cruel. The Outer Limits Twist is basically the Evil Counterpart of the Twilight Zone Twist: in the latter, the twist is a form of divine justice, a bad thing happening to stop a bad person from getting away with it (or a good thing happening to someone who deserves it). In the former, it's just Finagles Law: the universe is a mean place and wants to hurt you. Often, an Outer Limits Twist is what happens when a writer attempts a Twilight Zone Twist, but fails to carry it off.
  • Spoiler alert: Stories are not spoiled by 'spoilers' (Psychology, Study, Results, Reading, Spoiler, Storytelling, Plot, TwistEnding, LiteraryFiction, Mystery, Suspense, ShortStory, Accessibility)
    Many of us go to extraordinary lengths to avoid learning the endings of stories we have yet to read or see [...] when discussion threatens to reveal the outcome. Of book and movie critics, we demand they not give away any plot twists or, at least, oblige with a clearly labeled "spoiler alert." We get angry with friends who slip up and spill a fictional secret. / But we're wrong and wasting our time, suggests a new experimental study from the University of California, San Diego. People who flip to the last page of a book before starting it have the better intuition. Spoilers don't spoil stories. Contrary to popular wisdom, they actually seem to enhance enjoyment. / Even ironic-twist and mystery stories – which you'd be forgiven for assuming absolutely depend on suspense or surprise for success – aren't spoiled by spoilers, according to a study by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UC San Diego's psychology department, to be published in [...] Psychological Science.
  • The 10 Most Asinine Movie Twist Endings | (Bad, Movie, Film, TwistEnding)
  • The 5 twist endings every Twilight Zone episode seems to share | Blastr (Ending, TwistEnding, Ending.Twist, TwilightZone, SF, SciFi, List, Writing)
    Writing for The Twilight Zone couldn't have been easy. Take a moment to think of your favorite twist endings of all time. Now realize that the TZ writers were expected to come up with one of those endings every dang week. So it's no wonder they recycled their plots every so often. / We've found that 25% of all original Twilight Zone episodes have one of five twist endings. As you watch Monday's July 4th marathon on Syfy (starting at 8 a.m./7 Central), see how many you can count.
  • The Other Side of the Story: Story Twist and Shout (Writing, Twist, TwistEnding)
  • Twilight Zone Twist - Television Tropes & Idioms (TvTropes, Plot, TwistEnding)
    A Twist Ending designed to force An Aesop. Generally, a character does something despicable or foolish. Perhaps they were acting in an immoral way; perhaps they merely dared to rally against fate/ the gods/ the futility of existence/ their own humanity. Whatever the reason, the universal kismet doesn't like it, so something totally unexpected but poetically just happens at the end to drive the lesson home, hard. Such endings are all but explicitly moralistic; it isn't enough for the universe to bring a situation to a just resolution, it has to resolve the situation in such a way as to both reveal what the moral of the story is and "demonstrate" the correctness of that lesson.
  • Twist and Doubt: Movie Plot Twists & Surprise Endings at Kontraband (Film, Movie, Trope, TwistEnding)
  • Twist Ending Tips From Harlan Coben -- Writer’s Digest (Writing, Ending, Advice, TwistEnding)
    Award-winning writing, quick-witted characters and the kind of suspense every reader craves—his books may be classified under mystery or thriller, but Harlan Coben seems to have it all. And he’s willing to share his secrets.

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