Sunday, 20 February 2011

How Not to Write Horror: Part 5

Part 5: Endings. Happy or Not?


Back to films (briefly), another question raises its head. Should it really finish? Freddy, Jason and the likes have been going for years, with each film leaving you with the impression that they’re coming back. That’s movies.

If I have invested my time in reading a book – or short – that isn’t recognized as part of a bigger picture, I’m annoyed at a cliffhanger ending. Just saying.

So happy endings, should we use them exclusively?

I recently gained criticism from my peers over a story that didn’t have a happy ending, although I thought that I was justified in my not-so-happy ending. If you’ve read my work, you’ll know that I happily dispatch main characters in closing scenes. So I’m not a rainbows and flowers writer. But does that mean my stories don’t have happy endings?

Ultimately, it depends on you, the author, on how you want the story to finish. I’m looking for one word – closure.

If you kill your main character/s are you justified in doing so? Not for a happy ending, but to complete the story. All I ask for is an ending, without the ambiguity of, say, a Freddy film.

There is nothing wrong with killing off the cast to achieve a satisfying end.

That said, do you need to kill them all off? Of course not, no.

Take Clive Barker’s shorts in the ‘Books of Blood’. There are stories in there where no one of consequence dies, yet the chilling nature of the stories won’t let you put them down.

It can be done in many ways, but I urge you to finish the story, and most importantly, satisfy the reader.

Satisfying the reader leads to the other question, one predominant in horror writing… the twist. We know that ‘the twist’ is massively important in a horror story… or is it? From my personal writings, I feel that a twist is always there, sometimes significantly, sometimes not. My twists can unfold during the story, or in other cases are literally revealed in the last sentence.

Twists need to be shocking and surprising – that’s easy. They need to be believable in the context of the story (Yes, I’m looking at all the tales that end with ‘it was all a dream’ etc.) and if you’re going to put in a major twist at the end, it needs to stand up to re-reads.

I’ve seen The Sixth Sense many times – you all know what I’m talking about – but at no point during the viewing can you say, “Hey, that doesn’t work with the end.”

Sometimes the end doesn’t rear its head (to even the writer) until the last minute. Make sure you follow these rules as best you can:

Don’t cheat the reader – they’ll hate you.

Conclude the tale – no one wants to be left with half a story.

Rubbish twist? Rubbish story.

Plot holes – leave none.

This (sort of) concludes How Not to Write Horror, although in the next week I will be compiling a summary of the feedback that I have received from authors, editors and publishers to help you know… How Not to Write Horror.

Part 1 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.

Part 2 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.

Part 3 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.

Part 4 of How Not to Write Horror can be found here.


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These are my own opinions, and should only be taken as a guideline.

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