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September 9, 2011

So this review of Adam Nevill’s The Ritual (at The Hat Rack) prompted this excellent blogpost  over at The Speculative Scotsman, and also this excellent blogpost at Spooky Reads, which – if you haven’t already clicked on the links – are about the endings of horror novels, and how they’re often disappointing and, more specifically, how it’s a tricky thing to satisfyingly end a horror novel. Do you explain everything, and in doing so rob the novel of the mystery, the unknown, that made it what it is? Or do you refrain, and finish the book without explaining the nature of the horror, thereby potentially giving the impression that there’s no internal logic to your world, that you threw in all the supernatural stuff purely for effect, or – worse – for expedience?

It’s a good question. My personal approach (when writing) is to have all of the logic and explanations worked out, but only include the details that are appropriate to the narrative viewpoint. It was easier with THE LEAPING than with THE THING ON THE SHORE, because the point of the horror in THE LEAPING was that it was random and nihilistic and ‘why me?’, like the cancer suffered by the protagonist’s father. I struggled to know where to draw the line between explanation and mystery in THE THING ON THE SHORE, though.

But what I really wanted to add to the conversation was my feelings as a reader. And my feelings as a reader are that I don’t want anything much explained at the end of a book, to be honest. Genre aside, I don’t want everything wrapped up. If when I get to the last line of the last page of a book all of my questions are answered, then I forget the book more quickly. A neat ending makes a book easier to swallow, and I don’t want that. I want a book that feels like it’s stuck in the throat. The mind’s throat. An angular book with sharp corners that leaves grooves in the mind’s throat for the mind’s tongue to probe at, to keep returning to. I want to read books that I’ll remember, and I remember books that leave me with questions, not answers. Books that make me feel something exactly not the warm glow of resolution, basically. Not always, but often.

That’s what I like to read, and that’s what I’d like to write. When I work out how to do it in horror fiction without leaving readers feeling cheated, then, well, hopefully you’ll let me know.

From → Writing

  1. (I haven’t read THE RITUAL, by the way. On my list).

  2. I totally appreciate your perspective as a reader. I’d say that it depends on the book itself, its plot and suchlike, and how appropriate an ending would feel given that gone before it. My preference is for the ending to be in keeping with the flow of the novel, or if it’s to be random and chaotic perhaps, then that’s fine too. Some books are better suited neat, others with a more surreal twist, smoky, and drifting around and lacking definition.

    I think if all books were to end inconclusively, I’d quickly tire. Likewise, if everything were completely parcel-neat, brown-paper wrapping and string, that too would be kind of boring.

    • I particularly liked your idea of ‘binary endings’ by the way, Will. I tend to find with that kind of ending that the alternative endings are almost as ‘present’ as the actual ending, if that makes sense. (Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily).

  3. Yes, that totally makes sense and could certainly one of those benefits to using that kind of ending. It’s kind of a case of ‘leave it to the reader’s imagination’ in that they’ve been guided to that point, and then as a writer you set them adrift, as it were, among a number of possibilities.

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