Posts Tagged ‘endings’

On Sunday, I posted about finishing my first short story of 2020, a science-horror story called “Primordial Nuclear Soup” (what a title, right?). I mentioned in that post I wanted to find a beta reader to take a look at the story before I edited it and tried to send it anywhere. Thankfully, I found someone very quickly who turned out to be the right sort of reader for this story. They gave me some excellent feedback on ways the story could be improved, but there’s one point that I wanted to focus on.

With “Primordial Nuclear Soup,” I was going for an ambiguous ending to the story. You know, the kind where things are left kind of open, leading to readers wondering what happened after “The End”? Yeah, apparently I confused my beta reader with that. They actually asked me if I’d cut it off early.

Now, this may have been because I simply forgot to put the words “The End” at the end of the story. But it got me thinking: when is an ambiguous ending good for a story, and when does it actually get in the way of telling the story?

As usual, when faced with a writing quandary that I can’t reason out on my own, I go to Facebook groups for writers. I got a variety of opinions on the subject, some of which felt more on the mark than others, but one response in particular resonated with me. The writer in question said that ambiguous endings work best with ambiguous stories.

What do I mean by ambiguous stories? Well, these are stories where so much is up in the air, that an ending where things are up in the air makes sense. A story with an unreliable narrator fits this description, or a story like The Haunting of Hill House, where we’re not sure if the house is really haunted and we feel the psychological strain on the characters. By the end of the latter, we’re still not sure whether the house is haunted, so an ending that still leaves us questioning what the hell just happened fits nicely.

Of course, some more “definitive” stories may benefit from an ambiguous ending, especially if it ramps up the tension. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” a Stephen King short story about a traveling salesman contemplating suicide, has an ambiguous ending dependent on whether the protagonist sees a light from a farmhouse through a snowstorm.* It’s a great way to top off a story revolving around a troubled man wondering whether or not he should kill himself or live to write a book about his encounters on his travels.

As for my own story…well, it’s science horror. And science/science fiction tends to deal with exactness. Even though the Xenomorph from the pinnacle of science horror, Alien, has an unclear origin,** everything else in that film is clear as crystal. So perhaps I need to give my own story a clearer ending.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give the story an edit before I start that essay (yes, I’m going to write it) and see what I can do with it. Hopefully, I’ll make something a magazine won’t want to throw in the trash after the first page.

A dramatic shot of “Rose” I couldn’t help but take.

Oh, and while I have your attention still, did you know today is the two-year anniversary of when I announced Rose was accepted for publication? Yeah, it happened on this day in 2017, and a lot’s happened since then. A year of edits and rewrites, the release and all the marketing, the audio book, and so much more. More and more, people have been telling me they’ve enjoyed the story, and hearing that is the most gratifying feeling ever. Makes me want to keep writing.

If you haven’t read the Kafkaesque story of a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), and you’d like to check it out, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read it, please let me know what you think. I love feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

*It’s been 19 years since it first came out, so I’m not sorry I didn’t include a spoiler warning.

**I like to pretend Prometheus and Alien: Covenant never happened. They take all the mystery out of the franchise.

Writing any part of a story is difficult. Starting it, the long slog through the middle, trying to wrap it up in a satisfactory way. Any part of it has its own challenges. But lately for me, trying to write the ending–those last paragraph or couple of paragraphs–difficult. I’m not talking about how the story ends, for me that’s usually already in my mind when I start writing the story. I’m talking about the actual words. What I use in the story to finish it out.

Those of us who read regularly think of how stories end, and it’s the most perfect ending, like “and they all lived happily ever after,” only not so cliched and unlikely to happen. More like, “All was well,” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.” The words close up the story so well, and it feels perfect. Replace one word or one sentence with something else, and it ruins the whole story, or at least the ending.

It’s those words that close the story out that are so important.

And I’ll admit, with some of the last few stories I’ve worked on, I struggle with finding the right words for those stories. I start to feel too wordy, or that I’m not giving an eloquent closing to the story. Consequently when I end the story, I feel a little unsatisfied. This may be in part due to the fact that I see a movie in my head when I’m reading and writing, so translating something from a mental visual to words is somewhat difficult. Or it could just be finding the right words are difficult. Especially when my brain decides to forget a word or two (kid you not, I forgot the word “agenda” for a week, which sucks because I needed it for something).

Luckily, on a few stories, I think I enjoy the endings of my stories a bit better on the second draft. And those that I don’t, I can change them a bit and that usually helps. But I think–and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only author to feel this way–I would like to not feel so dissatisfied when I finish a story. That the words I use to finish the story ring true to me and feel right. That they’re as close to perfect as “All is well” or “He turned over and went back to sleep,” or “He reached out to him with a single, terrible, slimy claw.”

Well, the good news is that with more practice, I can get more stories done and perhaps figure out what it is that makes those near-perfect endings. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

But tell me, How do you write the best ending for your stories? Is there a trick to doing it? Please let me know, I’m dying to know. Okay, not actually dying, but it would be nice to know.

Until next time Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

You ever find yourself reading a story, particularly a horror story, and particularly one of the shorter variety, and it gets really tense? And then something terrifying is revealed? And then–that’s it. The story just ends there. And you’re like…what? What happens next?!

Yeah, this happens quite a bit in fiction, though I notice it more in horror stories than anywhere else. A famous example is Stephen King’s “Boogeyman.” The story follows a man who tells a therapist about how his three children were all killed by the titular entity. The therapist convinces the protagonist to come by for further sessions, but the moment the protagonist turns around, it’s revealed that the therapist is actually the therapist wearing a mask. And that’s how the story ends. No fight between them, no death. It just ends on that revelation.

Why? Why do authors do that? A story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Why does the end seem so abrupt? It can be really frustrating sometimes!

Well, I’ve done this myself a couple of times with my own stories, so I have a few ideas on that. One is to get the reaction I spelled out above. The “Oh my God, what happened next? Why is it stopping so soon?” reaction. Why? Because you’re more likely to remember the story with that reaction. You’ll keep thinking about it. Maybe you’ll even vent your frustrations to other readers, which may encourage them to continue reading. Or maybe you’ll continue the story from there in a fan fiction, one you may share with friends and blog followers. Or maybe you’ll finish the story in a blockbuster movie someday that pulls in millions of dollars at the box office (unlikely, but one can dream). The point is, the story ends that way because the author wants you to remember the story.

Another reason is that the author feels, for whatever reason, that’s a good place to finish the story. As my old high school English teacher Mr. Guinan would say, “A story is never perfect; it’s just done. You can’t do anything more to it to improve it, it’s just done.” In this case, the plot can’t be furthered or worked on anymore. To do anymore would be a disservice to the story and bring down quality. It’s just done, and that’s why the author finished the story at that crucial moment without giving the resolution a reader might be looking for.

And finally, the story might end there because the author themselves can’t imagine what comes next. They try, but for some reason, they can’t see beyond that critical moment: the reveal of the monster, the corpse under the stairs, the woman being pushed into moving traffic (man, I’m disturbed). It’s most likely the rarest reason, because authors generally have an idea of how a story will end when it’s published, but I’m sure it happens.

In any case, whenever an author does this, they don’t do it with any malicious intent. Authors often treat their stories like their babies, and want them to be the best they can be. So when you come across a story and it seems to end abruptly, don’t take it personally. Even if it frustrates you, just know that this is the author’s way of making sure their story is the best that it can be. Because if they’re not making sure their story is the best it can be, are they really doing their job?

At least blog posts don’t end that way. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were reading a blog post, and it was getting to this important point, and then it just

I’m halfway through this series I’ve been doing of rewatching and reevaluting horror films I previously disliked to see if I missed something. And for those of you who are keeping score, I found I now love Perfect Blue, hate The Strangers more than I did the first time, don’t really have a different opinion on The Witch, and feel underwhelmed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And I’ve just finished watching my fifth entry, Oculus. What did I think? Let’s find out.

WHAT’S IT ABOUT: Oculus follows Kaylie and Tim Russell, a pair of siblings who witnessed their parents murdered by the spirit in a mirror as children. They return to their childhood home ten years after those events with the mirror in tow, Kaylie determined to prove that the mirror is haunted, Tim believing he hallucinated everything he experienced as a child. Weaving between past and present, Kaylie and Tim unearth dark memories, old wounds, and eventually, must decide if they are facing they’re own insanity, or an old and intelligent evil.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: Simple: the ending. I really liked these siblings, and without going into spoilers (though I could be forgiven for them, this film has been out for four years), I didn’t like how the ending treated them. Plain and simple, it just poisoned the film for me.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: An online critic I follow on YouTube did a video a while back of the Top 11 New Halloween Classics, and Oculus got #7. That alone was enough to get me interested in a rewatch. And when I did this series, Oculus was definitely on the list.

Thoughts: How did I hate this movie? It was awesome!

Now, I won’t go into full review mode, but this movie is almost entirely flawless. The concept alone is pretty ingenious, but it’s done in a way that puts you right in there with the characters. You’re seeing their memories as they remember them, at the moment they’re remembering them. And you’re experiencing what they’re experiencing the moment they’re experiencing it. It leaves you not only wondering what is real and what isn’t, but also makes you feel the paranoia and terror of the characters, who by the way are played amazingly by their actors. Especially Karen Gilliam as Kaylie Russell (we love you, Amy Pond!).

I also like how the film isn’t afraid to use a bit of body horror. There were definitely moments where I had to look away because I was so freaked out by what I was seeing, and these moments are never excessive in terms of gore or number of uses.

Add in some great camera work, ambiguity, and CGI that really deposits itself within the uncanny valley, and you got yourself a creepy horror film.

And as for that ending, it’s been four years, and I’ve done some just like it in that time. It’s honestly a good way to close out a horror story, especially if you care about these characters. It makes the ending that much more gut-wrenching. To sum it up, I now approve of the ending.

Judgment: This is definitely a masterpiece in horror filmmaking. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Oculus a well-deserved 5. Check it out, and see the horror through the looking-glass.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. The next one in this series should be entertaining, at least. And if it’s not, at least the sequels are supposed to be betterthan the original. I’m talking Evil Dead.

Until next time, Happy Holidays and pleasant nightmares one and all.

Here’s an impression of some of my reactions while watching this film:

and “Yikes!”
and let’s not forget “Oh my f***ing God!”

Yeah, it was a really good movie. It’s like watching the movie version of a Stephen King novel without actually having anything to do with Stephen King. Inspired by childhood nightmares of writer and director David Robert Mitchell, It Follows…well, follows Jay, a young woman who has recently been seeing a handsome young man named Hugh. One night they have sex in Hugh’s car, which leads to all sorts of trouble. Apparently Hugh’s passed on a curse, making Jay the target of a creature that can only be seen by those affected by the curse and follows them at a walking pace with the intent of killing them, and then going after whoever was the previous bearer of the curse. The only way to pass the curse on is to have sex with someone else.

The “sex equals death” trope has been part of horror since perhaps before Dracula or Frankenstein, but it’s so rare to see a well-worn theme reinvented like this, making the film a very strange metaphor for STDs and the overwhelming power they have on our lives. There’s also the fear of intimacy, alongside a fear of strangers and what they can do to us. That last theme is exploited pretty well in this movie, where every unknown character or extra could be It. Heck, at one point I was wondering if It was a squirrel, and I was afraid!

But that’s not all that makes this film awesome. For instance, the writing is phenomenal, starting slow but mysterious and quickly getting exciting. There’s barely any gore, and the jump-scares, rather than relieving tension, enhances the tense atmosphere that just builds throughout the film. The few moments of humor in this film seem to fit right in, giving us a short break from the constant suspense that characterizes It Follows throughout. And the way it ends is terrifyingly awesome, the perfect satisfactory ending (who knew I’d get that sort of ending just hours after my last post?). And the monster, so undefined and strange, is guaranteed to cause you terror, even at its strangest (and arguably slightly goofy) moments.

Not to mention the acting from the small cast, who are extremely talented! Special mention goes to Maika Monroe, the gorgeous actress playing Jay, shows wonderful breadth and ability despite still being very early in her acting career. I think I fell in love with her a little while watching her performance, it was that good. Also worth mentioning is Keir Gillchrist as Paul, a young man who obviously is crazy for Jay, and his earnest manner is so wonderful that you really want to support him no matter what happens. I definitely empathized with him, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will.

I can say more about this film–it is phenomenal–but I don’t want to give away any more. Instead, I really encourage horror fans to go see this movie if you can. It’s creepy, it’s fresh, and you’ll have second thoughts about one-night stands forevermore. Just a wonderful example in the continuing trend of great horror films from the indie scene and made on smaller budgets that scare us more than any bigger-budget franchise film.

I’m giving It Follows a 4.5 out of 5. This film is a new gem in the horror genre, so much that I tried to get the poster from the box office after the movie (unfortunately they don’t give those away anymore, darn it). I’m almost kind of hoping for a sequel. God knows the film leaves open the possibility for one, and I wouldn’t mind having some questions answered and seeing Jay and her friends grow in the face of this threat. On the other hand, why risk the possibility of ruining a great story by making a sequel that might fail to live up to the original? It’s quite the dilemma.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m going to bed. Maybe I’ll have a nightmare that’ll lead to an awesome story of my own. One can only hope, right?

“I love a happy ending.”

You hear that a lot. People go to the movies or read books or watch TV shows or plays and they tell you that the happy ending is the best part. Some people won’t even check something out–movie, play, book, whatever–unless they know there’s a happy ending in the story, as if their whole enjoyment of this creative work hinges upon how it ends and nothing else.

But what is a happy ending? What is the definition of a happy ending? If you think about it, it’s not as easy a question to answer as it seems. It can actually vary between genres. In romance, a happy ending is that after many trials and tribulations the hero and heroine finally end up together, madly in love, and the villain, if there is one, either realizes the errors of their ways and repents for it or they suffer for the misery they’ve caused. In fantasy, usually the quest the characters set out upon is accomplished, though sometimes that has its own consequences (the hero dies or, like Frodo in LOTR, has been too affected by the events of the story to truly be happy). And in horror, happy endings aren’t easily achieved. If you’re lucky, you’ll survive and have most of your psyche intact. Anything else is up in the air.

And in some cases, happy endings don’t come at all. Take about a third of Shakespeare’s plays, or movies like Oculus, or the movie Godfather (everyone gets brought low in that film). How about stories where the enemy is defeated but someone dies tragically (Moulin Rouge). Or maybe, as in one of my favorite indie horror film I Am A Ghost, you are left with more questions than answers.

I think happy endings are actually pretty subjective and hard to define. Does everyone but the bad guy win? Do the lovers end up together? Does nobody come away with traumatic experiences? I think it’s easier to look for a satisfactory ending than a happy ending. A satisfactory ending is a conclusion that resonates with you, that you feel is the natural conclusion of this long story you’ve been reading/watching and brings out an emotional response in you that doesn’t involve disappointment. It makes you say, “I like how this ends.” And it’s much less likely to make you burst out crying because you’re so happy that all has turned out well.

How do you feel about happy endings or satisfactory endings?

What’s your definition of either?


Horror stories usually have three basic types of endings. At least, in my experience they do. There are variants on the the endings, but for the most part horror stories and movies tend to fall into three broad categories: the happy ending, the temporary reprieve, and the monster’s victory. I hope that in the course of this post, I can go through all three and describe the benefits and cons of using each of these methods. This may bring a better understanding not only to other horror authors, but to myself of the stories we write and why we write them and how to improve upon them.

So without further ado, let’s begin the examination of endings in horror.

The Happy Ending. This one doesn’t need much explanation, because this ending appears in most stories. Good conquers evil, the monster is vanquished, and the hero or heroine returns home, maybe sporting some very attractive partner on their arm if they’re lucky. This is a standard ending that all authors use at least once, and it’s a good one because most audiences want a happy resolution to their stories. However, the problem with the happy ending (at least in horror), is that if it is done wrong, the reader could be given the impression that all is flowers and roses and that everyone who survived the terror is left unscathed. And fans of horror have only one response to that sort of Hollywood-sweet ending: “Bullsh*t!” Even though we enjoy realms with monsters, ghosts, and serial killers, we want some things to be realistic, and that includes having your characters somewhat scarred, even after they’ve achieved total victory over the enemy. At the very least, show how the characters are haunted by their experience, how they wish they could’ve done more or they’re sad that their lives are so messed up.

A good example of a happy ending in horror that is well done can be found at the end of the novel Misery. Protagonist Paul Sheldon has barely escaped Annie Wilkes. He hasn’t even escaped in one piece! He’s missing a foot and thumbs, he’s dealing with alcoholism and writer’s block, and he keeps seeing Annie’s ghost wherever he turns. Yet at the end he finds inspiration for a story and starts to cry, because he’s able to start writing again, that he was able to get away from Annie at all, and because of what his life has become post-captivity. That is a really well-handled happy ending for horror if ever I’ve read one.

The Temporary Reprieve. Another common ending in horror, and if you ask me the best of all three. The temporary reprieve is when the hero or heroine has defeated the monster at the end and has had a few pages or minutes of screen time to recover, maybe even celebrate and have a smoke. But then evil rears its ugly head again. The monster has returned, it’s only been stopped a short while, and it plans to continue doing horrible things no matter what happens (you don’t have to end the story with the monster reappearing, though. You can show what happens after it reappears or just end it there). This is a great way to end a horror story, because it gives the readers one last scare and leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

The problem with this ending though is pulling off another good scare (I’d also include whether or not you should do a sequel, but I’ve written about that elsewhere). You want to lull a reader into a false sense of security and get them to really be terrified at the end, and doing that relies largely on your talent and skill as a writer. If you are unable to create that twist at the end, it may come off to readers as cheesy, contrived, or unnecessary. Some good examples of horror stories that do this well are the movies Insidious and Nightmare on Elm Street.

The Monster’s Victory. Strangely for horror this one is a rarer ending, and I think that has to do with people wanting a positive resolution to their stories, even in horror (I have trouble with these endings sometimes). However the monster’s victory is still a great ending, and in the right hands can be a fantastic final note to a good horror story. In it the monster of the story has won, the protagonist has been killed or been rendered a victim, and evil will continue its reign forevermore (or until a sequel is made).

Like I said, this sort of ending does have the possibility of turning off readers, but at the same time, doing it well done will create a very positive response. I would recommend practicing it as well as looking at endings that have done the monster’s victory well. Some good examples would be the movies Sinister and The Skeleton Key. Terrifying and fun.

Now, not all horror stories fall neatly into these categories. Some are a mishmash of these endings, such as Texas Chainsaw 3D, which is arguably a combination of all three endings. And some endings don’t seem to be any of these endings: the novel Carrie has everyone in it, from insane Margaret to most of the cruel and evil teens to poor Carrie herself dying at the end of the book with a bunch of carnage in her wake. How do you categorize that sort of story?

Regardless though, these endings do crop up a lot in horror, and they provide a framework for authors to work and experiment with in their own writing. Using these sort of endings or examining them and identifying their flaws as well as their positive sides can help you identify which would work best for you or your story, or if you should try some sort of different ending that is not among the ones above. And if it produces a great story, then all that examination is worth it, don’t you think.