Today I read something that surprised me. I can’t remember where I read it and I wouldn’t tell you if I could, but I thought I would share it with you and see what you thoughts were:
“Horror HAS to have an unhappy ending”
Hmm, I’m not so sure.
Yes, conflict has to increase as the plot unfolds and by the end of your book it should seem like the only possible ending is an unhappy one, but it doesn’t HAVE to be. To me horror books are about triumph, about overcoming the most brutal of adversaries. As long as the ending is true to the story then I’m happy.
Of course knowing the enemy can be defeated (“happy” ending) can make a story seem dull – that’s why you have to try your hardest to convince the reader there is a chance the main characters may lose. Throw enough curveballs and they won’t be so sure if a “happy” ending is coming or not. But throw too many and they’ll think “What’s the point? Everyone’s going to die anyway.” You have to find that equilibrium that keeps everyone guessing.
But what the hell is a happy ending anyway??
(no Thai massage jokes, please)
Being pursued by an overzealous admirer, beaten to within an inch of your life, subjected to horrors you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy…and then you kick the bad guys arse. Sure the main conflict may be over but you still have to deal with the memories of what happened
It’s hardly sauntering off into the sunset territory.
To me the only thing an ending has to be is satisfying (maybe logical as well but that’s debatable). I want to reach the end of a book and say “that’s the ONLY way that story could have ended”. I don’t have to see it coming (in fact it’s much better if I don’t) but I do want to be able to accept it.
I’d be a little pissed off if every story ended with an “unhappy” ending; with the death of the main character, or the “monster” popping back up after I thought it was finally dead. But maybe I’m taking the term unhappy a little too literally. Maybe it doesn’t mean the main character fails; maybe it just means their life can never go back to normal. But that’s what happens in every good book, right? The main character is changed for life. They experience things that make them a better, or worse, person and deal with it. Or die trying. Maybe a main character dying can result in a “happy” ending.
Heroes die every day and their stories can be uplifting…even life affirming. So it could be the main character dies or “fails” but the story is still satisfying. There are a few examples where this is the case but I don’t want to spoil the books for the people that haven’t read them. Seek them out, they’re out there somewhere.
I guess what I’m trying to say is the end should always suit the plot, the characters, AND the reader’s expectations. Throw logic, convention, and reason out of the window. Write your ending from the heart and ignore people telling you horror has to end with misery and death. Screw sequels and set ups for series, your ending can be as happy as you want it to be.
But what do you guys think? Does horror need an unhappy ending to work?