Killed By Happy Endings by Heinrich von Wolfcastle
When it comes to creative writing in the classroom, teachers often charge their students to defend the creation of their work. “Why should this exist?” they ask. It’s a difficult question to answer, because, frankly, why should anything exist? Stephen King responded with his answer that entertainment is reason enough. It’s hard to argue with that.
Great writing conjures images and experiences in a reader’s mind. But, best of all, what great writing really does is it resonates and reflects a reader’s experience in the world. Through metaphor and imagery and atmosphere and the juxtaposition of unlikely things, we find Truths with a capital “T.” Has there ever been a greater truth than the one we find in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? For as scary and terrible as a monster might be, people are the greatest monsters of all.
As a writer, you send your story’s ending into the room to close the deal and ensure that the reader feels like their experience was a worthwhile one. In that way, a story’s ending takes on even greater importance in the horror genre, where a reader sometimes reaches the end of the ride having thrown up all over their shirt. The last thing you want to do in that case is to hand your reader a towel and assure them that it was all just a dream.
So, what happens when the story you were reading, for all the weeks you spent flirting with each other during those long walks on the beach, gets a little too handsy and loose with someone else at the local frat party all in the pursuit of a happy ending? You might wonder, did those nights spent curled up together next to a warm fire actually mean anything at all? That’s the thing about any worthwhile and substantive endeavor; it has meaning. It won’t crumble under the feet of time (and god forbid anything be forgotten). Stories – rich, full of life and character – die a forgetful death when the end fails to secure the means and nothing fails quite like an audience tested “happily ever after.”
Let’s not forget the real life narrative here. Unlike your story with the wandering eye at the frat party, we expect our lifelong monogamous relationships to end when we watch our partner die, only after they’ve succumbed to the greater ill of some debilitating illness or disease. Brutal.
I am not saying that happy endings can’t happen. They can happen. And, they should happen when they naturally follow the narrative. The ending must serve the story. But, imagine what Carrie would have been like if, in the end, she learned to find forgiveness for others. Or, what if the Department of Children and Family Services intervened in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the Sawyer family attended court-ordered family therapy? The effect would be that we would never talk about those stories ever again, just the way no one talks about the 2007 adaptation of I Am Legend that deviated from the book’s intended ending – one that gave the story its bite [you should read it].
Horror takes the reader to dark places – those corners and alleyways where difficult questions linger and where our fears are confronted. Those experiences are real. And for that reason, when the ending calls for blood, spill it.
Keep it spooky,
About the author: Heinrich von Wolfcastle claims to reside in a dilapidated castle off in the Transylvanian countryside where he writes by candlelight. His first book, Screams Before Dawn, was released in 2018 and called “an engaging page turner” by Scream Magazine. Though he lives the life of a recluse, he has been known to emerge from the shadows for Trick-or-Treaters on Halloween night. And, he checks his email regularly at HeinrichvonWolfcastle@gmail.com.