How do you end a horror story?

A scene from The Monster Squad.
A scene from The Monster Squad.

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.
  1. The monster defeats the hero. This works well in short stories, for extreme horror fiction and for heroes who deserve punishment.
  1. 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.

Author/editor Rayne Hall is the author of such writing craft books as Writing Scary Scenes.

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