Writer’s Craft #92 – Three Ways to End a Horror Story

Rayne Hall
Rayne Hall

Rayne Hall is professional writer and editor. She has had over 30 books published under several pen names, in several genres (mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction), in several languages (mostly English, German, Polish and Chinese), by several publishers, under several pen names. For books currently published under the pen name Rayne Hall, see http://www.amazon.com/Rayne-Hall/e/B006BSJ5BK
She is the author of writing craft books aimed at advanced-level and professional authors. Her ebook Writing Scary Scenes shows advanced techniques for creating suspense and fear in your fiction. http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Scary-Scenes-ebook/dp/B008IEJTSE/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1345464727&sr=8-2&keywords=rayne+hall+writing+scary+scenes

You’ve created a suspenseful beginning and a terrifying middle for your story – now what?

Choose from one of these three endings.

1. The hero defeats the monster. This is satisfying for novels and long stories as well as genre-crossing pieces. Give it depth by involving a loss or sacrifice, e.g. the hero’s mate dies.

2. The monster defeats the hero. This works well in short stories, for extreme horror fiction and for heroes who deserve punishment.

3. The hero defeats the monster, but… This makes a story memorable. You can have fun coming up with a “but” to surprise or shock your readers: The monster’s big brother is still alive. The monster’s mate swears vengeance. The hero regrets killing the monster. The hero metamorphoses into the monster’s successor. The alleged hero is the real monster while the alleged monster was a brave rebel who sacrificed himself.

Once the reader has seen the monster, keeping the fear-level high is difficult, but you can increase the emotional tension.

Avoid anticlimactic endings in which the danger is revealed to be non-existent: The monster turns out to be the hero’s long-lost loving mother, a pet dog or a friendly alien, or the dangerous situation was only a simulation exercise, a computer game or a dream.

Although I’ve used the male pronoun in this article, the hero and the monster can of course be female, male, human, animal, paranormal, alien or anything else you choose.

24 thoughts on “Writer’s Craft #92 – Three Ways to End a Horror Story

    1. I’ve been thinking about your comment, James. Yes, this would make a good ending, and probably create emotional impact. Yet, if the hero’s sacrifice brings the monster down, isn’t it a case of 3. The Hero defeats the Monster but…. (at the cost of his own life)…?
      What do you think?

      1. That makes sense. I suppose a lot depends on how the ending is presented to the reader. Anyway, I’m enjoying going back and looking at some of may favorite books (horror and otherwise) to figure out which ending they have.

      2. I don’t know if it would apply to other genres; I analysed only horror stories. Perhaps it applies to all genres where the plot focus on a good vs evil fight represented by a hero and a monster. I imagine it fits thrillers, but not romance novels. 🙂

      3. I would argue that a story doesn’t have to have a literal monster for these ideas to apply. Even in a romance novel, the “monster” could be feelings of insecurity which the protagonist must overcome before moving into a healthy, new relationship, or perhaps a protagonist’s ex-boyfriend/girlfriend could be “the monster.”

  1. #3. The hero defeats the monster, but… brings Beowulf to mind. The monster Grendel’s confronted and slain, everybody throws a party, and then… Here comes mamma. Great tips and timeless advice, Rayne

      1. Fantasy for sure, but with horror elements. In heroic fiction, the stronger/more powerful the adversary, the more heroic the protagonist’s actions become. That can consist of an adversary wielding overwhelming power, be it political, physical, or supernatural, or an adversary committing horrific acts. In Beowulf, it’s a couple of fantasy monsters doing horrific things.

  2. Glad I read this, as it’s useful for other genres as well: gunfighter vs. outlaw, superhero vs. mad scientist or, in my case, runaway slave vs. her mad ex-master who’s armed with futuristic technology. ^_^ Thanks, Rayne!

    1. Interesting, Alice. I confess that while I love reading horror, and of course writing horror, I can’t bring myself to watch many horror movies. I’m too squeamish and fast-forward through the gory bits. The kind of horror I enjoy watching is weird and creepy like Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, rather than violent and gory like most modern horror movies. I haven’t watched Night of the Living Dead. Maybe I should. Do you think I would enjoy it?

  3. Very useful, and not just for horror writers. In my case it would be the runaway slave heroine defeating her mad ex-master who has futuristic technologies :).

  4. I think suspense is crucial. Without suspense, horror stories are dull, regardless of the terrible happenings and the amount of gore. The need for suspense applies to all genres, of course, but perhaps more to horror than to others, because readers buy our books for the nerve-tingling thrills.

  5. May I propose a fourth possible ending: The hero escapes. This works best when the ‘monster’ in question is not one distinct identity (like ONE dragon) but a many-faced terror like a massive pack of rats, ants, ghosts The Headless Hunt or All Demons From Hell. Alternatively the horror may be faceless, like a fog, a wrath, a malevolent river etc…. Anyway, instead of defeating the horror, the hero somehow grows to understand it and uses the knowledge th escape. Alternatively the hero just holds out until the horror retreats by itself (The ghosts disapear at dawn, the red ants and the black ants go off to fight each other…) Anyway, the monster lives to fight another day, but the hero has his tale, which he writes down to warn you.

  6. This is an interesting article, I tend to take a very spasmodic view to killing off characters – good or bad. It’s nice to have ‘rules’ but sometimes it is good to shatter them!

  7. Great little article! One of these is exactly how I ended my novel “Moonlit Nights”. Monster versus Man…always a great and thrilling end!

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