Tips on Writing a Killer Ending for Your Screenplay
The concluding scenes of your screenplay are crucial as they can either make or break your story. Although knowing how to wrap up a script is challenging, it’s not impossible to achieve. Besides having some writing and creative skills, having the proper tools in mind for crafting an ending can significantly enhance your chances of having a killer ending.
Currently, the topic of screenplays and their endings is widely discussed in the film industry. While numerous perspectives exist on what makes a satisfactory ending, most filmmakers aim to leave their audience craving more. Nevertheless, below will discuss the critical tips for writing an excellent ending and what to consider.
Still from 'The Sixth Sense'. Photo credit: Yard Barker
Know What You’re Writing
Novice screenwriters often believe their characters will guide them to a suitable ending. They begin with an exciting opening and embark on the journey with their characters without knowing where it might lead them. However, this approach is one of the biggest mistakes a screenwriter can make.
While a novelist can explore various options and discover an appropriate ending, screenwriters face significant constraints as they must adhere to a specific page count. Each page must contribute meaningfully to the story, leaving no room for aimless wandering.
Moreover, the cinematic structure requires screenwriters to construct a compelling ending with well-crafted setups, payoffs, twists, turns, and foreshadowing that link the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Without a clear destination, you'll lose your way during the writing process, leading to a painful rewriting process that may extend for months.
Every writer understands that conflict and barriers for your characters are crucial elements of the cinematic experience. For the audience to leave feeling transformed by the characters' struggle, they must be emotionally invested in them. Thus, it plays a vital role in the screenplay's ending.
A good ending is not just about the protagonist defeating the antagonist or winning for no real reason. It should also address the character's internal needs (Lee in Manchester by the Sea) that they have been yearning for throughout the story.
Furthermore, regardless of the genre, conflicts that create physical barriers are necessary to engage readers and viewers. These conflicts should provide something tangible for the audience to grasp as they watch the characters struggle.
While internal struggles are essential, we also need to see external needs that are present and visible. Physical barriers (think of Luke Skywalker fighting Darth Vader) must exist between the characters and their external and internal needs. This provides a compelling and satisfying conclusion that leaves the audience feeling emotionally fulfilled.
The anticipation of a great ending is what truly captivates the audience. Predictable endings are the worst and have been overused in many genres, mainly action movies from the 1980s or modern-day superhero movies.
For instance, in an action movie, the antagonist might take the protagonist's loved one, causing the hero to save them. Although these films offer an exciting journey, their endings lack anticipation.
Hence, your script needs to offer twists, turns, and surprises to create an ending that unsettles the audience's expectations leading up to it. Film fanatics enjoy predicting the ending of a movie, making it a game for them.
Thus, the script should keep pulling the audience back and forth, building anxiety and tension as they anticipate what will be revealed next. By doing this, the film's predictable setup can lead the audience down a path they never expected, creating a more compelling and memorable ending.
Happy, Sad, or Somewhere in between?
I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Oh, that was sad,” or “What a happy ending.” The same rules apply to your script, meaning you’ll need to develop a story that’s happy, sad, or somewhere between. Look at movies or television series similar to your script and see how they end. Remember to craft an ending that fits your story well. If the tone changes too drastically, it might be challenging for people to believe it.
Mastering Your Ending
As a writer, you most likely know the importance of leaving your audience to want more. However, determining when to stop can be difficult. The key is to understand your ending and how to execute it effectively.
After completing your first draft and revising it accordingly, the next step is to focus on your ending. You have various options, such as happy, sad, or open-ended conclusions. Similarly, we often encounter challenging decisions in life's personal and professional aspects. Reflecting on our journey and evaluating what has brought us to where we are today is essential in such situations.
While your ultimate objective may be within reach, it's crucial to invest time in creating a suitable ending that does justice to your story. One cannot progress without acknowledging their past experiences.
Although we all desire a happy ending in our life's narrative, the final chapters are entirely up to us and cannot be dictated by fate or anyone else. Take that knowledge and apply it to your ending.