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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Peaslee

Sticking The Landing: Brainstorming Story Endings

I recently read Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and highly recommend it. A lot of this advice was inspired by it.


In storytelling, and in life, it's important to stick the landing. Game of Thrones was a fantastic show for half its run, and an entertaining show for the other half, but its ending was atrocious. Its ending caused the show to drop out of the cultural zeitgeist. That's an impressively bad ending.


But you don't want an impressively bad ending. You want an impressively good one.


Where do you begin? By brainstorming different story endings.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Unkown


There are, essentially, three basic endings: the positive, the negative, and the ambiguous.


Positive

Simple: the protagonist wins. This is the most common ending.


Negative

I've written about negative character arcs before. Negative character arcs result in a negative ending: the protagonist fails to obtain their goal.

Ambiguous

An ambiguous ending is all about uncertainty.


As Bell writes in Plot & Structure, a classic ambiguous ending is found in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. The novel ends with Holden in a sanatorium, the reader unsure if he'll improve. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is another example.


So That's It?


Hahaha! No.


Those are the most basic ways of categorizing endings, but your reader wants more than that. They want complexity. You want to beef up your ending and make it remarkable.


How can we do this?


Hell

Put your character through hell. Torment them. Ask yourself what's the worst thing that could happen, write that thing down, have your character react to it, and then do it again. Make it so that when they reach the end, they have earned it, whatever it may be.


Loss

Your character should lose something. As previously mentioned, loss is a key component of Dan Harmon's Hero's Journey. A protagonist who walks away with everything is boring.


Sacrifice

Even better, have your character sacrifice something.


These losses don't have to be physical things. You can lose a close relationship or lose your sense of self. You can sacrifice your sense of safety or your goals. There are lots of ways to incorporate loss and sacrifice into your story.


What a Twist!




Twists are hard, but fun. At least, I used to think they were hard. Here's what Bell says about writing twists (paraphrased):


  • As you near the end of your story, quickly write down 10 alternative endings to the one you probably have in mind.

  • After a day or two, cull the list. Keep the top 4, but add complexity.

  • Choose which one would make the best twist.

  • Go back through your story and plant clues about the twist ending here and there.


When he puts it like that, it sounds pretty easy! Give it a shot.


Resonance

As important as the ending is, the last page is even more important. As Bell says, you want to write a final page that will resonate with your reader long after they've stopped reading. Carefully choose your words, your dialogue, your description. Don't rush.

 

What Have We Learned?

  • There are three basic endings: positive, negative, ambiguous

  • No matter which ending, make it more complex

  • Do so by adding loss and sacrifice

  • Consider throwing in a twist

  • Make the last page count!


Stick the landing!

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