How the Story Ends

Although this entry discusses the endings of screenplays and short stories, no spoilers are revealed. We’ll be looking at the craft of bringing a story to an end rather than the specifics.

There’s been some disquiet over the ending of the TV version of Game of Thrones, with the consensus that it had been unsatisfying compared to the action that had gripped viewers earlier in the run. It echoes the rumbles that followed the endings of Lost a decade ago and The Prisoner in the 1960s.

Conflict is at the heart of storytelling across all media and all eras, and it’s by convention that the conflict should rise and rise as the story progresses, then end with a final resolution that ties up every plot point. Unless a writer is exceptionally skilled, it’s difficult to break away from this convention and still hold the audience.

An unsatisfying ending is usually because the writer failed to resolve the conflict, or sometimes because said conflict wasn’t strong enough in the first instance.

Let’s look at The Prisoner. The series begins when a former British intelligence agent known as Number Six is abducted and imprisoned in a coastal village, where absurd rules apply and staff attempt to nudge him into explaining why he abruptly resigned from his job.

Despite this strong initial premise, the series begins to fall into a rut. By the halfway point of the run, each episode sees Number Six attempting either to escape or to win over his captors, but failing each time in a near-predictable manner.

The final episode is consistent with the absurd rules that had been well established, but fails to answer the question posed about why Number Six had left the security services. That revelation could have been one of the greatest moments in TV history. But thanks to the erratic production, the episode instead divided its viewership.

It is entirely possible to end a piece in such an open-ended manner, as is common in some short stories, but this must be carefully done. A few years ago, I had a story published in an anthology whose stories didn’t seem to have proper endings, leaving me with the feeling that each writer was concealing a vital plot point.

However, an open ending is common in The New Yorker and similar publications. In other media, the film Teeth (2007) is a particularly good example of showing how the previous sequence of events might be about to repeat without spelling it out too much.

The bottom line is that a good ending must either indicate that the previous conflict will be resolved in some way, or an audience must have enough information to work out how it might be resolved once the narrative ends.

Poetry in the Community

On Monday of last week, I had the opportunity to teach my colleagues how to write a type of poem called a clerihew. This was part of a larger event called Learning at Work Week where people were teaching their skills to their workmates, such as Zumba, knitting and making mocktails.

A lot of people don’t think they’re very good at writing poetry, so the aim of my workshop was to encourage colleagues to write verses about each other using a simple format. I ended up with a number of good ones, and the clean ones might make it into the internal newsletter.

Colleagues and friends have also occasionally commented that they don’t understand poetry in general, with some asking how to appreciate it.

The best advice I can offer is to read and listen to a wide variety of different poets. There will probably come a point when you begin to differentiate between what you like and don’t like.

After all, most people are certain of their taste in music, and that’s because we’re surrounded by it every day and have built up a template in our heads of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. If you’re willing to take the time, it’s possible to do the same with poetry.

A Last-Minute Change of Plans

In the first few minutes of the film Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, the narrative branches off in two directions. This creates two separate realities.

In one of these, Helen Quilley catches her underground train and arrives home to find her partner cheating on her. In the other, she misses the train, giving enough time for the mistress to leave before she arrives. The rest of the film alternates between the two realities and explores how that starting point leads to two different outcomes.

The Sliding Doors screenplay is a great example of how a character’s last-minute change of plan – intentional or otherwise – can play a pivotal role in the plot. However, it’s unusual that the audience can compare and contrast both outcomes.

Another film that relies on chance is Titanic, starring Kate Winslet as Rose Calvert and Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson. In the story, Dawson wanted to return to America, and was only on board because he won tickets in a game of cards and managed to arrive in time.

As an audience, we’re left to assume that if he’d been unable to board, he would have tried to find another way to travel, and that Rose would be with her intended fiancé as the ship sank. Without them meeting, the plot would be substantially less exciting.

Almost Nearly Started and Just About Finished

There are times when it’s difficult to begin a new project or to add to an existing one. This entry is due to be published at 6pm on Tuesday 7 May, but I only wrote the first words at around 8:30pm the day before.

Rationally, I know I need to put something out by the deadline, but it was a struggle to think of a topic, plus I have another project I’m keen to start once this entry is written that doesn’t have a time pressure associated with it.

Fortunately, I have the luxury of addressing this procrastination within my final entry, thus creating a topic to discuss.

And it’s not only writing projects. I promised a friend I’d read her Star Wars fan fiction, but that’s been 13 months and I still haven’t touched a word of it.

As I write, I’ve looked up the link again and charged up my Kobo. At least if I transfer it to my device, I have a higher chance of looking at it before 2020. I can’t provide a link because I was sworn not to share it.

Another area where I’m trying to keep up to date is podcasts. There’s a local one called Creative Chit-Chat that I only began to listen to at episode 46 because I knew the interviewee. I’ve then made a concerted effort to go back and listen to them all in order; I currently have episode 35 queued up.

One aspect I love about catching up with a production is that it can compress a long period of time into a shorter period so you can see the changes that have occurred since then.

A prime example is The West Wing, where the fictional political landscape changed over its eight years on the air, influenced by what was happening in the news at the same time.

No doubt if I scrolled back through my entries on this blog, I would find a comparable pattern emerging. Heck, maybe one of my regular readers has already done this and can comment on what they found.