This time of year is known for resolutions, but we’re here to talk about resolutions of a different kind – story endings.
In screenwriting, the third act is known as ‘The Resolution’, and it’s where the plot finally comes to its end. But not all story endings are made equal. Whilst a film must come to an end, the way in which it does can leave us feeling satisfied, surprised, subdued or shortchanged.
Take a look below at 6 different story endings you can choose to finish your story.
Story Endings 1: The Happily Ever After
A happily ever after story ending is one we’re all familiar with. It ends neatly, with a bow, all loose ends tied up. The conflict is resolved – the resolution – and the characters resettle in their new lives, happy with the new status quo.
We see this in fairy tales and in classic story endings too. The heroes usually win, and the villains are usually punished. This tends to be quite a satisfying ending for an audience, because all the plot threads are resolved and there aren’t any questions left unanswered.
Even it it’s not the simplest understanding of a ‘happy ending’, for instance, in a Shakespearean tragedy, the story comes to its natural ending with everything resolved for the audience.
Story Endings 2: With a Twist
Twist endings resolve the plot lines, as with a happy ending, but in a surprise fashion. Information has gone missed – suppressed by the writer/director – up until the story ending, information that then changes everything.
This type of ending works really well for mystery movies or for thriller movies. Is the victim really the murderer all along?
Twist endings should still feel satisfying, we still need to understand and believe in the twist, it can’t feel random or too far fetched. But they should ideally take us by surprise.
Story Endings 3: Cliffhangers
Cliffhangers are a great option for story endings, especially if you have a sequel in mind! Cliffhanger endings naturally lead us to want to know what happens next, so we’re already invested in your next film or story, before we’ve even finished the first one.
The story is left unresolved, as our time with the characters is cut before we find out what happens to actually end the story.
Be careful if using a cliffhanger. Whilst it can be great to incite interest in your followup project, it can also leave audiences to feel a bit cheated and we can be quite cynical towards them.
Story Endings 4: Ambiguous Endings
Far kinder to your audience than a cliffhanger is an ambiguous ending. Here, the story or certain parts of it, are left unresolved, but with the onus on the audience to come to their own conclusions. Is it a happy ending after all? Or is the protagonist disappointed? Is it an ending after all? But perhaps not the one they wanted?
This can be quite a sophisticated way to end a story, it places a lot of trust in the audience to understand your implied endings or the possibilities, but this can also feel quite satisfying to an audience who gets to make their own mind up. This works really well for emotional stories, or for complex stories involving a character’s wants versus their needs.
Story Endings 5: Circular Narrative
With a circular narrative, the story ending somehow takes us back to the beginning. That’s not to say that the whole story has been a waste of time, or that things don’t change as a result of the story playing out. The characters can change, the settings or the rules can change, but the relationships between those things might be different. The Wizard of Oz is a good example, although be careful with the “It was all a dream” technique, which can quickly become a cliché!
A circular narrative pattern works well in creepy stories or horror films, but it can also work really well for a comedic effect too. Films that use time travel might also use a circular narrative story ending.
Story Endings 6: The Epilogue
The epilogue is an extended ending, or the ending after the ending, which usually takes us to some point in the future, after the main events of the film. It might use a ‘Happily Ever After’ ending, and then use an epilogue to follow up.
In an epilogue, we will likely visit the characters again, sometime after the dust has settled. This can underline the story ending, or provide space for a follow-up cliffhanger. Sometimes it may take the form of title text screens that follow on after the film, especially in the case of documentaries or films based on real-life events.
So there you have it, six different story endings to bring your film/screenplay or story to a close!
Do you have a favourite type of story ending? Consider exploring with different types of story endings, you might be surprised with where the possibilities take you.
Learn More about Screenwriting:
At Sparks Film School, we teach young filmmakers aged 5-18 all about the different aspects of filmmaking. You can find more details on our filmmaking courses here.
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