In writing horror, is a twist ending worth it?
“Soylent Green is people!”
“It’s in the water!”
“I can see dead people…”
You could easily site many examples were a big twist at the end makes a story memorable. But, on the other hand, how many times have you groaned over the “and they were dead all along” or “it was only a dream” scenario? Many horror scenarios depend on a big reveal…but a big twist can be a bit of a let down at times. Here are three things to consider when writing a piece where the crux of a story depends on a big twist:
1) Social mores change over time. What seems like a shocking twist today can fall rather flat in the near future. Consider the brilliant play (and movie) Suddenly Last Summer. The twist that the son is gay today does not hold the shock value that it once did.
2) It can fall flat. Big reveals are a big deal. If a reader feels like the author cheated or misled him, then the reader’s reaction to the big reveal will be one of disappointment thus marring the reader’s entire reading experience. I’ve read books where at the end it’s a dream, or like in the movie Happy Birthday to Me, the killer has a Scooby-Doo worthy rubber mask to look like another girl. Sheesh.
A recent book — a hit I might add — ended with a big reveal that the only safe place was among the blind. Yet, while I read the book, I all along asked myself, “What about blind people?” As you can imagine, the big reveal left me feeling disappointed.
3) A big reveal can stifle other opportunities to scare. If you focus solely on a “big reveal,” you may miss other opportunities to scare. In other words, you may be so focused on keeping the secret that you force yourself not to write many great scenes if you just let the cat out of the bag.
These are just three considerations. I’m sure you can think of even more reasons not to — and great arguments for — a twist.