Wow Them in the End: How To Finish Strong

4 November, 2011

Viking Cops?
It's NaNoWriMo, so you know what that means: lots of idiots penning novels that nobody will ever read (including the writers). Personally I think it should be called NaWhoGivesAShitMo.

Yes it's National Novel Writing Month, where dozens of bloggers and hipsters set out to pen the great novel in just the month of November. So if you see a dirty neckbeard riding a fixie and carrying a typewriter on his back, then you can figure that he's celebrating NaNoWriMo and No-shave-November. Or he's just participating in the Occupy Stereotypes Protest.

So if you are actually participating in NNWM, I'm here to tell you how to write an ending. Of course, I write screenplays, not novels (unless you count that bildungsroman about strippers I wrote when I was 21 [that's not a joke]), so my advice will apply mostly to film, but alas, stories are stories.

Ohhhh, Stars above!
The keys to writing endings:

1. Bookends

Simply have the ending refer back to something that happened at the beginning. It doesn't need to be clever in any way. Take The Social Network for example. Basically the plot shows us how Mark Zuckerberg is a douchebag. The very end is of him adding his ex-gf as a friend on facebook and hitting refresh constantly, waiting for her approval. The film opened with her breaking up with him and she's barely in the rest of the film. It just refers back to something from an hour and a half ago, and if the audience goes "oh yeah, I remember her" they think they "get it" or something and so they feel smart. People love to feel smart.

Another example of this technique would be any movie that uses flashbacks and eventually gets you back there at the end (see: Fight Club, anything by Tarantino)

2. Fuck your main character in the ass

No More Rape! Wooo!
Then murder them, piss on their ashes, shit on their grave, kill their whole family, and then have them miraculously win somehow.

Basically, right before the end, the main character should reach a lowest point, where it seems that not only have they failed, they're doomed, and so are their friends. Look at The Matrix. It's all leading up to Neo being THE ONE. And by The One, we mean Mr. Right for Trinity. So Neo's dead, shot repeatedly, in the real world he flatlines, that's game over. Then Trinity whispers to this dead guy that she loves him and suddenly he comes back to life....cause he's Mr. Right I guess, or One, which...hold on a second, rearranging the letters spells NEO. OMG I get it! This movie is so smart!

Any actiony film will follow this formula, as will just about ALL films. Rom-coms will have the couple break up for a while and seem doomed. Make sure that right before the end it seems that all is lost.

They replace Apollo Creed with a Cow. Goal change!
3. Move the goalposts

Main characters should have one clear big goal. Win the big game. Blow up the Death Star. Have sex. Don't get anally raped (Shawshank Redemption...not sure why he fled to Mexico).

So when everyone knows the goal the question simply becomes, "will they or won't they succeed." This is why sports movies tend to be more cliche. If they win the big game...predictable. If they lose the big game: well aren't you mr. non conformist. Basically you have no way to surprise us, they win or they don't.

UNLESS, you find a way for them to achieve some kind of victory, perhaps a small one, a moral or personal victory while still technically losing. See Rocky. His goal ends up being just proving he can cut it, not that he has to win as a gigantic underdog. If he wins, nobody believes it.

The Departed: Leo is the MC, wants to bring down the big bad mafia guy. Will he succeed? He does! BUT WAIT...there's still the bad guy's mole in his own department. Can he beat him? Ohhh...ohhhh, well fuck. SPOILER ALERT: he fails and is killed. Talk about moving the goalposts. Now defeating this bad guy is passed off to a different character. So we ultimately have a minor character take on a different main goal than was seemingly the main goal of the film. That's a lot of goalpost moving.

4. The Twist

OMG, he's the bad guy!?!?
Twists are tricky because they have to make sense for the whole plot. The easiest, stupidest twist is to reveal that an ally was actually a double-agent. See all bad cop/spy/thrillers. Oh my god, he's on the other side! But when you think through it, you'll realize that the traitor character's actions earlier on rarely make sense. For example, the film Unbreakable turns on a twist that reveals a seeming ally to actually be a supervillain. But he helped along the hero so much, his only goal was to make the hero eventually catch him. He's CRASY!

Howabout an example that comically checks all 4 boxes.


The Jew Media is trying to get in our brains. 
Mel Gibson is a widow who tries to protect his family from an Alien invasion. We see his wife's death in flashback, and just before she dies, her eyes glass over and she says: "Swing away." Doesn't mean anything. Moving on. The daughter fills a glass of water, takes one sip, says it tastes funny, then sets it somewhere. She fills the house with these glasses of water. The son has bad asthma, and Mel Gibson's brother is a failed minor-league baseball player.

So when Alien shit starts happening, the clear goal is to board up the house, keep the Aliens out. The house is totally taken over by Aliens, they are trapped. They defend the basement, stay safe. They apparently have won. They go back upstairs, seemingly in the clear. BUT THEN. An alien takes the asthmatic son hostage.

Now the goalposts moved, the Alien Invasion is over, there's not an endless horde of bad guys...just this one. So they don't have to mount a huge defense, just kill this one. But how?

The alien then sprays some chemical weapon in the boy's nose. Oh fuck. At that instant, Mel Gibson tells his brother to "swing away," seeing as he's a baseball player, he's bad ass with a bat, so he swings, and hits those water glasses the daughter set out, splashing the alien. TWIST: it turns out the Aliens are allergic to water (glad they picked a planet that's surface is 70% covered in water). So the splashing water kills it or whatever.

So we have the twist, we have the bookends of "Swing away" and Meryl being a baseball player, and the girl leaving the glasses of water, and since the boy's asthma kicked in, the poison couldn't get past his blocked throat. See! Everything happens for a reason. I remember all those things, and then they came up again at the end. Also, while Mel Gibson wasn't dead, his whole goal of protecting his family was nearly a failure as his son passes out from asthma and is taken hostage by an alien that sprays chemical weapons down his throat. BUT he totally lives.

See, it's not that hard.

Think about how dumb that ending is without bookends or a twist. So his wife's last words, and his brother's failed career, and his daughter's weird behavior, and his son's asthma all align to allow them to kill an alien. OR you know...if they just had a water balloon handy. That would have probably worked. Or a gun. Or just an untrained person smashing an alien with a baseball bat would probably do the trick. Or they all could have peed on him. Humans are mostly water, all we really gotta do is bleed on them and they die. What pussies. Our butt-sweat is like anthrax to them.

So those are the simple things you can do, just have somethings come up that were mentioned at the beginning, come up with some twist, have a perfect storm bring the MC to the lowest possible point, then change the goalposts and have them win somehow.  Done.

Let's look at some more examples:


Wrinkle Twister!
So they are about to accomplish the goal when Leo and Juno are sent down to the infinite subconscious that we've been hearing bad things about all movie. So they're in this lowest point, where they could fail at their mission and be trapped for centuries in this awful sub-dream place that drives them mad. Quite a low point. Then, we realize that we've seen this before. The film actually opened on this, but then flashedback several weeks or months. So we've bookended to something that the audience saw at the beginning. Remember that opening, Leo wakes up in the Ocean, then is brought in front of a really old Asian guy, then it kind of jump-cuts to Leo in the same room in front of the same Asian guy but younger. This beginning doesn't really make sense on first viewing, we don't know at all what's being implied and then it flashes back a long time, but we don't really know that it's a flashback. So basically it only really serves a purpose to A. give you that "Oh right, at the beginning, I get it," moment on first viewing. So then from this lowest point, book-ending twist ends up changing the goalposts drastically as Juno and Leo now have a completely different goal.

Imagine the ending not having that bookending which doesn't really accomplish anything in the first act, it's simply there to be recalled later. Imagine it isn't such a perfect storm of a shitty situation, and that the goal doesn't change from the previous level. Suddenly it ain't so climactic or "profound."

Minority Report

So Tom Cruise is accussed of the future murder of a man he doesn't even know. He knows he's not a killer, so how could this possibly be true? About all we know about him is that he's a great cop, an upholder of justice, protector of the innocent, and that he is haunted by the kidnapping and probably murder of his son. So what could be a lower point than discovering the killer of his son and being faced with the choice of killing this man, but becoming a murderer, or letting him live. What if instead of being his son's kidnapper, the temptation is that the guy hired a hitman to kill Tom Cruise or something. He could have been a really bad guy that needed to be killed. But that wouldn't make for a very personal involvement for Tommie. What's the one weakness that Tom Cruise has? His son. So of course, that's going to be a factor.

I like surfing movies. 
Always make the lowest point the "Perfect Storm" for that character. It has to be the worst possible thing to happen to them. Not just a bad thing, but the one thing. They're afraid of snakes, so of course it's an anaconda. They're afraid of heights, so they have to walk a high-wire. Make it a perfect storm. Thinking backwards from the perfect storm can give you character ideas. They need a weakness or a flaw in order to have a perfect storm. So figure out what that perfect storm bad thing might be and work backwards to that character flaw.

So there you have it. Give it a twist, move the goalposts, make it rain a shit-ton, and show them something they remember from an hour and a half ago. That'll make it "deep."

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