Sometimes what seems at the outset like a great story idea really isn’t. Such is the case with the gimmick story.
This is a story in which character development takes a back seat to a big reveal or a shocking twist at the tale’s end. A good example would be in science fiction, when the evil alien invaders – whose frightful appearance and behavior raises tension through the story – turns out to be humanity. Or when the main character, usually an inept boy messing up a classroom assignment – actually is “God” creating our universe.
There are a number of reasons why gimmick plots almost never work. First, stories thrive on conflict that characters must overcome. Even if there is no great moral message (as is the case with a romance or a mystery novel), readers are able to identify with and root for characters who solve problems rather than those who do little of anything. Secondly, a gimmick story usually doesn’t ring true. That’s because to make the great reveal or twist ending work, plot holes often have to be glossed over, and so readers lose their suspension of disbelief. Ultimately, most gimmick stories are simply clichéd premises or plots. Perhaps for some deep Jungian reason, people constantly come up with plots that have already been done, such as the names of the last two survivors on a expedition to another planet turning out to be “Adam” and “Eve.”
Of course, there’s a fine line between a gimmick and a quality story, usually based on the reader’s experience and personal tastes. Just about all readers past their mid-20s will find almost any story using a Twilight Zone- or an O. Henry-styled ending to be a gimmick; a middle school reader, though, who’s encountering such an ending for the first time will find the story delightful and memorable. And, of course, sometimes just for nostalgia or because we agree with the gimmick story’s allegory, the twist ending is darn appealing.
Still, on balance, authors ought to avoid penning gimmick stories, unless it’s a really clever idea.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.