A good story needs a great ending. No matter how interesting other parts of the story are, without a solid ending, the audience usually remembers the story as boring.
This sounds harsh but it is fair. Think of the end as the reward for following you on a journey. After getting to the end of a 2-hour journey, why should the audience be rewarded with something uninteresting?
It’s like the American novelist; Mickey Spillane says nobody reads a book to get to the middle. So how can you reward the audience with a gratifying ending to your story?
What makes a great ending work?
Before you can write a solid ending, you need to understand the underlying principles behind a solid ending. A story has three main parts—the beginning, the middle, and the end. Each part is designed and written differently but they work together to deliver a solid story.
By understanding how these three parts relate to each other, you will know how to incorporate them into a great story.
A story is a journey. The beginning introduces you to a character and their world. The middle shows you the character’s movement toward a goal and the obstacles that try to derail the character.
The end brings the journey to a close. It resolves all the questions that were raised in the minds of the audience in both the beginning and the middle. It shows how the character has changed and what lessons they learned through the course of their journey.
Essentially, a great ending gives closure to the audience—a resolution to all storylines. Endings generally constitute the final quarter of the story. Yet, endings are very important. Messing up the ending could mess up the story.
So you’re probably wondering: How can I give closure to the audience from just 25% of the story?
1. Resolve all story questions
As we mentioned earlier, the ending should bring closure to the audience. This means that all the questions the audience gets from watching the beginning and the middle should be answered. For example, will the hero reach his goal? Will he fail? What happens if he fails?
You might not answer every single question, especially if you have a planned sequel coming up. However, you should answer at least 80% of all story questions. Remember that stories are journeys and that the audience who cares enough to watch the story till the end should leave feeling satisfied.
2. Tension should build to the max
Stories are nothing without emotions. The emotions shown by characters help us to connect to their personality and thus care about the story. Now, like most writers, you probably follow the principle of continually rising tension which says that tensions (emotions) should build as the story progresses.
Now imagine watching the story with rising tensions, only to get to the end and meet a stale, flat series of events called the end? How would you feel?
And you’re now saying in your head…..If I started my stories with emotions, there’s no way I won’t add emotions to the end. And that’s where things get tricky. If you follow the principle of continually rising tension, then the end must have the most emotional charge. It must be the most emotionally tense aspect of the story. Otherwise, you are left with a flat ending. So how do you max out emotions?
- By maxing out conflict.
- By bringing the protagonist face to face with their biggest obstacle.
- By increasing the stakes.
All stories are journeys that mirror life. Any journey would be incomplete without some kind of transformation on the part of the characters.
The character’s journey is full of obstacles they must surmount to get what they want – both internal and external. By surmounting these challenges, characters are transformed. The things they encounter leave an imprint on their personality. And the place to highlight that imprint is in the end.
So how can you show a character’s transformation? You can use words or actions that would show how the character has transformed. Remember, most transformation occurs on the inside, and, so you should highlight how the character has changed internally.
Don’t limit this transformation to characters. Even your story world can benefit from a change. Change is the only constant thing in life, so it’s one of those story elements that are immediately relatable.
Remember we said endings must resolve story questions. Well, if endings are too predictable, they fail to achieve the intended impact. For example, imagine you knew how everything would play out in my story, would you bother watching it? Of course not.
The audience feels the same way when they have to sit through predictable stories. Yes, they have questions that you must answer. However, you need to answer those questions entertainingly. After all, the main point of a story is to entertain.
So how can you make endings entertaining? By keeping the audience guessing how the story will end. Make sure that any outcome you use in the end isn’t easily predictable.
For example, if the protagonist will save the girl in the end, then make it look like they will fail. Even if the audience can predict how it will end, ensure there is enough reasonable doubt in their minds. This keeps them hooked to the story and on the edge of their seats.
5. Don’t use the first draft
One common mistake writers make with the ending is to use the first idea that popped up in their heads. Making this mistake is understandable, as many writers need an idea of how the story would end before they can start writing.
However, make sure you don’t go with the first ending you come up with. Why? Because, as soon as you start writing, the story begins to evolve. Things you thought would work out end up disappointing you. For this reason, you need to be ready to rework your ending until it fits the story.
Forcing an ending because it’s the first idea you came up with might be detrimental to your story because the audience will notice that it doesn’t fit. So make sure you take your time while creating endings
Like every great performance, a story should end on a high. One that gives the audience a sense of satisfaction. Creating thrilling endings can get tricky as the ending only constitutes about 25% of the story. Yet, it must satisfy the audience’s curiosity while giving them a sense of emotional closure.
It sounds more difficult than it is when you know the must-have elements to include in your ending.
Gilbert Bassey is a novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker who enjoys teaching others how to write better stories. He does this via a weekly newsletter, which you can sign up for at https://mailchi.mp/gillianbaci/diymfa. He is also an artist who enjoys pop music.
You can find him on his storytelling blog or follow him on Instagram and Facebook.