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Writing the Perfect Ending

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 2:51 pm on January 15, 2012

Yep, they can make it – and they can break it!  In one fell swoop you have to tie-up any loose ends and satisfy an audience’s expectation.  Not an easy task, right?  Absolutely not.  In fact, as a working screenwriter I have found writing a satisfying ending to be one of the hardest parts of the creative writing process.

Don’t get me wrong, I can write endings.  I can write all types of endings.  Endings with a final climactic showdown between the hero and villain.  Endings with a witty line that leaves the audience with a smile.  Endings with a sad yet uplifting tone.  I can write endings in my sleep.. but that doesn’t mean they are always going to be the best ending for the story.  Perfection is hard to attain.  We all try to create the perfect scene, the perfect witty banter, the perfect character arc and the perfect ending, but linking all of this together is complicated.  We have to fulfill expectations on so many levels and at the same time make it original and entertaining.

And things get even more difficult when you’re trying to please a producer, director and development executive because everybody has their own ideas of what needs to transpire in the closing moments of your movie.. which by that point is technically “their” movie or optimistically “our” movie.  The best advice is to keep it real and inevitable.  Don’t just tag on a twist you haven’t set up.  An ending needs to evolve naturally.  To be organic.

If you can create an a) original ending that b) entertains but more crucially c) resolves the central character’s journey, d) hints at the theme and e) either makes you laugh, cry or leaves you wanting more then you are onto a winner.  The feeling an audience needs to walk out of the movie theater with is one of “satisfaction”.  Sure, they may argue about who killed who, what that blue ornament on the mantelpiece represented, and why the director filmed it in Seattle rather than London, but ultimately they need to feel intellectually content with the resolution that was presented to them.

I hate movies that either give us a predictable ending (lazy screenwriting and filmmaking) or shove a truck load of exposition down our throats just to explain the plot.  If it’s that complicated then the writer has made some poor decisions somewhere down the line.  If you need to telegraph to the audience that the hero or heroine has changed, through dialogue or a clunky visual device, then that’s equally as irritating.

The best endings just “feel right” when you write them and watch them.  They may sometimes surprise you, not necessarily out of an intentional creative choice by the writer, but by the script itself which by the end of the story should have a life of its own.  Like putting that final piece of the puzzle into place and then stepping back to take it all in for the first time, an effective ending completes the picture.  And endings, like that final piece, should never need to be forced into position.. they should just slip into place as if they were always destined to be there.

Don’t Have Too Many Characters

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:43 pm on August 8, 2011

When you’re planning your screenplay make sure you only include the characters you need in order to tell your story.  It may sound like an obvious statement but many writers make this mistake because they just don’t think about it.  It can easily happen.  You outline your story, flesh out the arc of your protagonist, clarify your theme and then dive into the script scene by scene.  The problem arises because as you write event to event you simply introduce characters as they are required and before you know it you may have multiple voices all singing the same song.

Sometimes you may not even realize that this is a problem, let alone the problem with your screenplay and it’s usually left for others with a keen eye to point out.  So if you are certain that each character you create is crucial to your story, just take a little time at the end of the first draft to read through with this task in mind and double-check you haven’t doubled up on essentially the same supporting character.

And watch out for “sounding-boards” – you know, the best friend who literally just waits around off-screen for the hero to enter frame and unload their hopes and fears.  We all have them in our lives so I’m not saying get rid of them, just make sure you handle each “best friend” or “work colleague” in their own way so they have their own voice and own life so we, as an audience, don’t see that you’ve simply invented this guy or gal as a shoulder to cry on.  Make us feel that they have their own lives and even their own character arcs.  That’s right, just because their role in your mind is simply to be a sounding board, doesn’t mean you can’t develop their own journey.

Ask yourself, who is this person?  Why are they in this scene?  What do they contribute to the scene, protagonist/antagonist, plot and movie?  Are they merely a sounding board for you or your central characters?  If so, that’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as their dialogue and actions are handled deftly, but it is a bad thing if their dialogue is on the nose and expositional.  And it’s a really bad thing if they take on the same basic role as another supporting character, i.e. propping up the lead.

If you do find a few characters that don’t really have their own unique voice and personality or even life outside of the movie then perhaps you should consider either rewriting their dialogue and role, cutting them, or combining them with another character who is more clearly defined.

The point to remember with movie writing is that you only have so much time to tell your story – so use it wisely.  Don’t waste screen time on a character that is just there to plug a gap in an awkward silence or tell the audience the plot.  Again, there are always exceptions but generally you need to be succinct in your writing and that means limiting the number of speaking parts to those that are absolutely necessary.

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