Writing out a surprise story ending can sound like a really great idea in theory, and sometimes it can play out perfectly in practice too.
A great twist that immediately pops into my head is from the movie House on Haunted Hill, a horror movie where – spoiler alert – the black guy and the hot blond are the only two who survive! I seriously never saw that coming from an otherwise stereotypical genre flick.
Though it’s hardly alone in the unexpected story twists department. There are so many other fascinating, if seldom-explored, roads to reroute your readers on.
I mean, what if the guy doesn’t get the girl? Or after the protagonist manages to get through a series of extreme, death-defying obstacles, he then dies from an papercut-induced infection?
What if the heroine doesn’t meet her goals? She actually falls short, which prompts her to hang up her cape and go live the rest of her life as a Buddhist monk studying the lessons of solidarity?
As with House on Haunted Hill, a surprise ending for your story might sound like a great way to conclude it. But as a writer, you have to ask yourself: Is it a great twist for the genre you intend to publish in?
That’s the very serious question connected to today’s Writing Rule #27. What kind of ending is appropriate for your audience?
Here’s the short of it, my writing friends: You’re asking for trouble if you try to write an ending that doesn’t fit with your manuscript’s genre.
Certain genres lend well to surprise endings, and horror is definitely one of those. When your whole job as a writer is to keep readers in suspense, then yeah, bring on the twists.
Other genres simply don’t play well with end-of-the-book surprises though, and it’s important to know which ones those are. Because if you try out a trick-conclusion on the wrong kind of genre, your potential publishers and readers ain’t gonna be very happy with you.
And then you’re going to be in trouble.
Romance, for one, isn’t a literary category to mess around with too much. You can throw in all the surprises you want in the beginning or during the rising action, climax or falling action. But that conclusion had better involve a happily-ever-after or for-better-or-worse!
Consider it this way. Readers pick up romance novels to see that true love prevails. So it’s a really mean move to promise them that and then deliver something different.
Have no compassion for the reader? This is your manuscript, you say, and they can deal?
Okay. That’s true. It is your manuscript. And it should be your manuscript. But it’s also your publishing contract at stake if you want to go the traditional publishing route. And it’s still your income on the line if you’re going to go it alone by self-publishing, since a disappointed reader is very unlikely to be a repeat reader.
Essentially then, the main point of Writing Rule #27 is this: Know your genre. That way, you won’t get a surprise ending yourself when you hear how readers are horribly disappointed with what you wrote.