Sorry if this is off topic, but this seemed to be the best site to ask.

I can think of several examples of the use of a narrative technique: a last-second change in mood, often occurring so close to the end of the work that the audience cannot respond to it, potentially forcing them to reinterpret what they've experienced up to that point.

A plot twist that doesn't change the mood of the story (such as the reveal in The Usual Suspects or the "Wait, the monster isn't dead!" cliche in horror) is not an example of this, nor is a plot twist necessary for this to occur (The absolute best example of this I've been able to find is in this short animation) though one can be a catalyst (for example in the 'true' ending to the game The Witch's House). It is distinct from Bathos, though if applied properly Bathos could be an example of this. It is perhaps the same as or at least a narrative equivalent of a similar technique in music, for example in the opening theme for the game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (which also uses it to a degree in the opening cinematic it plays over) or with the more commonly used Picardy Third.

My apologies for the lack of links- my reputation doesn't allow posting more than two. I'll edit this once I can, until then it shouldn't be too hard to find what I'm talking about using google.

  • 4
    Surprise ending? See Wikipedia: Plot twist.
    – Mick
    Nov 14, 2016 at 21:59
  • 4
    This might be a better fit on Writers.SE
    – Helmar
    Nov 14, 2016 at 22:09
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    @Helmar You're right. I'm not sure how I missed that one when looking down the list. Will migrate it as soon as I figure out whether or not I'm allowed to.
    – P...
    Nov 16, 2016 at 19:09
  • 2
    Please see Writing Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Jan 9, 2018 at 12:01
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    I think this is an interesting idea and a well-written question. I'd like to see this question remain on EL&U. @Mick's comment could be the basis for a good answer.
    – Lawrence
    Mar 10, 2018 at 12:00

6 Answers 6


One term would be mood whiplash

Fiction often has far extremes. They cover the gamut of emotion, from tragedy to comedy. Sometimes, these two will be so close together that they make the viewer's head spin!

  • Look it, will use it somewhere in my writing. Thank you Feb 7, 2021 at 13:12

Consider simply calling it a reversal.

A reversal is when something (character, plot) appears to be one thing, or going on way, and changes on a dime so that there’s a perspective shift and the reader (and characters) see that thing differently. - What is Reversal in Fiction Writing? by Vicki Hinze

The ones you cite are specifically character reversals, revealed at the end of each narrative.

So in short, a character reversal is when we perceive a character in one way and then discover that character is different from our perception. He can be better than we thought, or worse than we thought, but he’s definitely different than we thought. And yet when we learn his true nature, it’s plausible for him (and thus to the other characters and readers). - ibid


This might be a too “micro” a level, but I wondered if Paraprosdokian might be the device you were looking for.


Bathos is sometimes used more broadly to mean any sudden change in the tone of a work:

Bathos is a sudden change of tone in a work of writing, usually from the sublime to the ridiculous.


In its broad sense it does cover what you want, although there is nothing in the definition which limits the device to the end of a work.

Unfortunately, neither Oxford Dictionaries nor Merriam-Webster list this broader definition.

Alternatively, creators employing this method can be said to be pulling the rug out from under their audience. The phrase is used here.

Alternatively, you might call this an example of subverting (audience) expectations.

  • While I appreciate the answer, it's appearing at the end of a work is fundamental to the technique I am describing. The 'Goal' in using this technique as I see it is to upset the audience's understanding of the work in some way, without giving them time to react to it until the work is complete.
    – P...
    Nov 14, 2016 at 21:26

The Witch's House to my knowledge is an online game with many many ways to die. I am no expert in that field but did research such.

The plot twist technique:

peripeteia **merriam a sudden or unexpected reversal of circumstances or situation especially in a literary work

Peripeteia is a sudden reversal of the protagonist's fortune, whether for good or ill, that emerges naturally from the character's circumstances.

plot twists & narrative techniques is an education unto itself, especially for me. I chose peripeteia as The Twilight Zone was listed as using this technique. As some on this forum have supported this question as appropriate, I humbly offer this answer.

  • I appreciate the answer, especially at this late date. That said, I cannot say that either of your suggestions fully match what I was intending to express. They both focus on the effect of a work on the characters within the work, rather than on the person experiencing that work. I was unaware of the debate on the appropriateness of this question, but can only say at this point that I suspect that no word or commonly used expression exists in either English or literary jargon to describe what I intended.
    – P...
    Mar 13, 2018 at 21:21
  • @P... indeed! I would post this ? on the writer's forum.
    – lbf
    Apr 9, 2018 at 19:24

The word below is NOT necessarily a narrative device ? or is it ?

but the word below comes to my mind.

catharsis at Dictionary.com

the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music

Rather than a story that resolves or sometimes returns the protagonists to a new equilibrium a story of catharsis suggests an end very different from the start, and all the struggles culminating in a shift of outlook ?

cathartic from Oxford Online Dictionaries

1 Providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions; causing catharsis.

‘crying is a cathartic release’

‘Today, audiences prefer big statements, cathartic effects and emotional exhibitionism.’

‘The play is supposed to build to a final cathartic spilling of secrets and emotions.’

‘I also think there is real value, cathartic release, in applying to humor to the situation and being able to openly laugh at what we once feared’

Note those sample sentences at the online dictionary relating to fiction - perhaps they might be useful?

Both Transformation of outlook and a sudden culmination are involved.

HOWEVER, another failure with the word is that it generally means a 'growth' or 'improvement' ... if the story took a person from happy and active and left them confused and dejected, it would not be the right word at all.

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