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The Two Twist Scene: Perfect example from Die Hard

I wish I still had my notes. Our instructor at The Second City writing program mapped out a common sketch you'd see at Second City (or Saturday Night Live). I'm pulling from a dusty memory, so bear with me here, but here's the general recap:

  • Setup - Establishing shot. 2-5 people at a restaurant, living room, office, etc.

  • First Twist - This usually happens right away. What makes this an interesting situation?

    • Example: Parents have hired a motivational speaker but the motivational speaker is Chris Farley playing a high-energy guy whose life is falling apart. I live in a van down by the river!

  • Action / Dialogue - Most of the sketch's run time (and most of the jokes) happen here. Playing on the First Twist. Like building up to Chris Farley taking out a table.

  • Second Twist - Everything leads up to a second surprise twist

    • Example: Turns out Matt Foley is trying to move in as a full-time coach so he doesn't have to live in a van down by the river anymore

  • End Scene - Sometimes happens immediately after the second twist. Other times there's a little bit of falling action. This is often the hardest part to write.

But I wondered, maybe this Two Twist roadmap/formula/outline/whatever-you-want-to-call-it applies to any type of scene, not just comedy. And that's when I saw this scene in the original Die Hard.

(Yep. I saw Die Hard for the first time in 2023; 35 years after its original release date. Also, I'm on Team "Die Hard Counts as a Christmas Movie." And one content note, there are 2 f-bombs in this scene. Just giving a heads up)


Bad Guy (Hans Gruber) is caught by Good Guy (John McClane). First time the two meet in the movie and McClane has him at gunpoint.

First Twist

Without missing a beat, Hans Gruber -- who has a very distinguished British accent -- perfectly mimics an American accent, pretending to be one of the hostages. It seems like McClane falls for it. And Gruber is within five feet of a hidden gun.

Action / Dialogue

The suspense builds. Gruber is gathering information about McClane. McClane continues to be nice to the perceived hostage. Offers him a cigarette. Then offers him a gun! The audience is screaming, "What are you doing, McClane?!" Sure enough, Gruber turns the tables, has McClane at gunpoint.

Second Twist

But turns out McClane was never fooled. He was in control the entire time. The gun he handed over had no bullets. McClane: 1, Gruber: 0

End Scene

But the celebration doesn't last very long. Immediately, the elevator opens and Gruber's men come charging out, guns in hand. Gruber smiles. The audience is locked in for what will happen next.

✍️ Application

This exercise is best done in the revision/rewrite stage. Pick a scene, any scene, but helps to choose one you view as the most action-packed, suspenseful, or where there's a major plot twist. Then chart it out. Questions to ask:

  1. Does my First Twist happen fast enough? How can I bring it in earlier?

  2. Is there a clear second twist?

  3. What is the goal of this scene? If it's to create that "can't put the book down" moment, it's best to end the scene as close to that second twist as possible. If you want a more tidy resolution to the scene, spend a little more time addressing the results of the second twist before ending the chapter.

We'll be on the lookout for more scenes to share as examples. And try it for yourself next time you're watching a movie/TV. You'll be amazed how often and different ways this formula plays out!

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