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How To Make Your Third Act Fresher and Better

By Marilyn Horowitz

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If the ending of every story has already been told how do you make yours original? An ending is either happy or sad – it’s your point of view and beliefs that create something new.

In order to be original, we writers must have an understanding that the world has gone through a huge change because of the recent financial upheaval, and how that has affected the way people live. The key to writing the new Act III is seeing how the world has changed and writing stories that show us how to live better. Many people have lost their jobs and lost money on investments and – as a result –are being forced to re-examine their core values and to reinvent themselves. The ending that was expected in real life is no longer there, so the new Act III must offer both fresh possibility and the hope that it's never too late for us to have an exciting future.

Successful new movie plots echo our everyday experiences as well as providing an escape. So a story like Up, in which an old man gets to be an action hero after his wife dies, is a perfect example of the kind of film that offers confirmation of the hope that we can reinvent ourselves and have a new adventure at any point in our lives. Another recent film, Easy Virtue, is a comedy in which an older woman finds love with a younger man whose father is in an awful marriage, and in the end falls in love with his son's bride. And this turns out to be a good thing. The message of the film is that it's never too late to find true love and to live a new life.

The world around you must be considered when designing the plot because people go to see movies that not only help them escape, but that allow them to understand their life experiences and how to deal with them.

To find a better ending, do the following exercise:

For our example, we will use the film, The Godfather I, which is a film that uses the old ending.
  1. Briefly describe the ending you currently have for your screenplay. For example, if your film were The Godfather, you might write: Michael Corleone takes over the family business.
  2. Now describe an opposite ending for your screenplay. For example, what if in The Godfather, Michael never went to the hospital after his father was shot, so he doesn’t save his dad and lives happily every after with his wife, Kay.
  3. Briefly describe the wildest, most unlikely ending. For example, if your film were The Godfather, what if Michael Corleone’s wife had lived and he'd stayed in Sicily and bought a vineyard?
This last example shows how you could take an old ending and turn it into a new one. In this alternate ending, for The Godfather, Michael chooses a new adventure and reinvents himself. Now, ask yourself how could your main character do this in your screenplay? In light of the current depressing economic conditions, your characters, like your audience, must find new paths and new ways of prospering. Good movies can inspire us to get past our own old boundaries and try harder to live our dreams. Looking for a new ending for your story will allow you to gain insight into your own experiences and discover a new perspective in how to live your own life, and give you a better shot at getting your movie made.

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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