A lot of people talk a lot (perhaps too much) about hooking your reader/viewer very early on in your story so that they’re invested enough to read the whole damn thing. But what about the ending? I think the most disppointing thing is to be emotionally invested in a story only to have it drop the ball at the end. I’m not a fan of happily ever after endings to horror/dark fantasy stories. Save that syrupy goodness for romantic comedies. When it comes to horror/dark fantasy I prefer an ending that isn’t so happy. Whether its an ending where ‘evil’ wins the day or the protagonist pays a heavy price for surviving is what I like.
Stephen King’s early work did this very well, especially Pet Semetary and the novellas in Five Past Midnight. HP Lovecraft’s writings never had a happy ending, the majority of his characters went bat crap crazy.
I think an ending that isn’t all sunshine and bunny rabbits reinforces the terror and horror of the evil. It reminds us that the ideas we have about reality and the control we believe we have over our lives are merely illusions. That we are not superior or important. That we are not at the top of the cosmic food chain. When evil wins in a piece of fiction it is more powerful and impactful to me than the ‘good’ guy winning, again. Evil winning in the end is unsettling and terrifying. But evil winning at the end can become a cliche. Hollywood is to thank for this fact. I don’t know how many slasher flicks I’ve seen where the crazed killer is supposedly killed off at the end by the twiggy damsel in distress, only to rise up from his grave or ‘mysteriously’ not be found when the authorities arrive on the scene.
One of my favorite endings in movies is John Carpenter’s The Thing. The ending essentially is two characters left alive in the ruins of their research base in Antartica. Both are exhausted and paranoid that the other is actually The Thing. They have no way out. There’s no escape. There’s no help coming around the corner. It’s an ambigous ending and its unsettling. My imagination tends wonder about the possibilities of what could happen to them. I’m not just a passive viewer in that ending, it engages my curisoity and imagination. I love that kind of ending, too. I don’t need the movie to hold my hand and explain everything out to me every time.
In a lot of ways, endings are just as important as hooking the reader in the begining. A well written ending can stick with me for a long time and encourage me to return to read/view more of that person’s work.