Film Industry

How To End A Story: What Makes A Good Story Ending For Movies?

Photograph of the blog post author, Jodie Francis

Jodie Francis

27.5.2021

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Are you in the process of writing a screenplay? Are you unsure on how to end it, or what would make a good story ending? If so, then welcome – you have come to the right place! In this article we will tackle how to end a story. After all, endings are a vital part of telling a story; they can be a way of tying up all of the loose ends. On the other hand, sometimes the most effective endings can be left on a cliff-hanger or with a bit of mystery involved. This can keep the viewer engaged and guessing!

movie the end with clapboard and popcorn

In this article, we will consider the different types of endings and what kinds of stories they would suit best.

So, make sure that you keep reading to figure out the best way to end your story!

What Makes A Good Story Ending For A Film?

A film reel.

So, let’s kick things off by discussing what makes a good story ending in film.

There are a number of different film genres out there, for example, action, romance, horror, comedy; the list just goes on. It’s important to consider the genre of your film and create a relevant ending. For example, if you were to think about how to end a fairy tale story, this would likely be with a ‘happily ever after’, particularly if the intended audience is children. 

If you’re wondering how to end a short story or screenplay, then you’re not alone. Again, this will all depend on the genre and storyline. If you have chosen to write a horror, then it could be a good idea to end it with something shocking that will remain with the viewer for the rest of the day. Sometimes a big twist occurs in the final few scenes, and this can have a great impact. 

Of course, some endings don’t need to be a big shock or spectacle, and they simply tie things together. This is typical of romance films, as the viewer wants to see the main character and their love interest get together with the hope of a happy future.  

The most important thing to consider is that a fantastic ending will keep the audience engaged until the very last scene of your film. Unless you’re going for a cliff-hanger, it should resolve everything and leave the viewer feeling satisfied with the storyline and the character development.

The overall goal is to create an ending that will stay with the audience long after they’ve left the cinema.

Different Ways To End A Story In Film

Now, let’s go over some of the different ways to end a story in film.

Before you can even consider the ending you need to address the hero’s ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. Something that your hero needs is an internal desire and one that the hero isn’t actually fully aware of. However, it ends up becoming the driving force of their character development.

This will likely be something that the viewer can relate to, as needs can cover a vast array of things; such as learning that love is more important than money.

Moving onto the want of the character, this is the opposite of what they need. A want is something that the hero actively desires and seeks. This could be success, fame, money, the list goes on. This is what can spark the plot and drive it forward before the character becomes more consumed by what they need.

These wants and needs can directly influence the ways to end a story. Some focus on the combination of wants and needs, and others can disregard it all together. So, keep reading to discover how to end a feature story.

A Sweet Story Ending

back to the future marty doc in the delorean

Let’s kick things off with a sweet ending to a story. A sweet ending encapsulates the hero getting both what they need and want. This can be a very satisfactory ending for the viewer. A great example of a sweet ending to a film is from Back To The Future (1985). 

You’re probably already familiar with this charming film, but we will provide you with a quick overview. Marty McFly desires nothing more than to become a famous and successful rock star, however, he’s simply not confident enough to chase his dreams. George (his dad) also has low self-esteem, so Marty needs to break away from this cycle.

This is all changed when Marty time travels from 1985 to 1955, and he is now in the position of his father, meeting his mum! 

This means that he is in danger of being completely erased. He manages to grow in confidence (and taking his dad’s place) gets his parents to fall in love. So, when Marty returns to the present he is filled with confidence and it has reiterated his want to become a rock star.

So, this means that both he and his dad are happier, more confident people now. Therefore, he has not only been able to help his dad, but also himself. This is a fantastic, wholesome ending to a film.

A Bitter Story Ending

The Godfather ending scene screenshot.

Now let’s move to the complete opposite of the previous type of ending and put the focus onto a bitter ending. This type of ending occurs when the hero doesn’t get what they want or need. This can be classed as a tragic or bitter ending. A good example of this is the film The Godfather (1972). 

In this movie, Michael Corleone doesn’t want to be anything like his family, as he wants to go off and live a normal life with Kay (his girlfriend). At his sister’s wedding, he explains to Kay what his family is like and how they represent themselves in business. Michael’s father is killed, and this is where the character arc changes, as his sole focus is now revenge. 

Although his want has changed at this point, his need stays the same as he still wants to be a good person and lead a normal life away from crime. This isn’t to last, as he goes down a dark path. This is solidified when he murders the men who killed his father as retribution.

He then doesn’t get his dream of a normal life as he becomes the head of the family business. Therefore, by the end he hasn’t achieved his original want or need, completely the opposite in fact. 

The audience is aware that he is now a completely changed person. This is what marks the ending as bitter or tragic, as the hero doesn’t always get what they want, and that mirrors real life. 

This is also quite a common ending in horror films, so if you’re wondering how to end a scary story; opting for this type of ending can be a good idea. Although the audience can feel that it’s building, horror films can still make their endings shocking and memorable for the viewer. In fact, if they don’t then some audience members may be displeased!

The Semi-Sweet Ending

Cassie from promising young woman in a pretend nurse outfit holding a scapel.

This is one of the more common endings to films, where the viewer watches the hero get what they need but not what they want. A good example from recent cinema is Promising Young Woman (2020). To give a brief overview of the film; Cassie is a medical school dropout following her friend Nina’s sexual assault by a fellow student, Al Monroe.

It is implied that Nina took her own life as a result of this. Cassie now frequents bars and pretends to be drunk. She allows men to take her home but then reveals her sobriety before they can take advantage of her. 

Cassie targets people who have wronged her and Nina, and this is all leading up to Al Monroe’s bachelor party. It is insinuated that Cassie was going to attack Al, however he ends up killing her. This all seems extremely bleak, however she had put plans in place to reveal to the police who was behind Nina’s assault, and also her murder. 

Therefore, although Cassie didn’t want to die, she reached her end goal. Due to her murder this can be regarded as a semi-sweet ending, as the viewer will feel partly like Cassie has managed to bring some evil people to justice.

Unfortunately, she will not get what she wants as she will not be there to witness justice being done.

The Bittersweet Ending

Mark Zuckerberg looking depressed.

Finally, it’s time that we address the bittersweet ending. This type of ending refers to the protagonist getting what they want but not what they need. The hero is left wondering if everything that they have gone through has been worth it; or if they would do everything differently if they had a chance for a do-over.

If you are looking for how to end a story like this, or examples for this type of ending, then look no further than The Social Network (2010). 

If you aren’t familiar with the film then let us give you a brief explanation. It follows Mark Zuckerberg and his friends creating the social media platform Facebook. Mark desires to create something that will create a name for himself, and in turn, be admired and accepted by his peers. 

However, along the way Mark does some questionable and horrible things to get what he wants. In fact, his ex-girlfriend describes all of the horrible aspects of his personality near the beginning of the film, and this haunts him the whole way through. 

Overall, Mark achieved what he wanted, as he managed to create Facebook and it’s out there for people all over the world to use. However, Mark doesn’t get what he needs, as he ends up alone. He has made so many enemies along the way and he ended up being hated by his best friend.

The last scene of the film leaves you feeling slightly sorry for him, as Mark is clearly weighing up everything that he has done and realises that he is truly alone. He is also attempting to make a social media connection (through Facebook) with his ex-girlfriend Erica.

Our Final Thoughts

A clapperboard being held in a desert, ways to end a story

So, there we have it – that now concludes our article on how to end a story. We hope that we have given you some helpful tips and tricks, as well as some great examples to help spark some creative ideas.

We would definitely recommend going and checking out these movies, as they can help to give you a clear idea of how a successful screenplay comes to life. Of course, you could also opt to read the screenplays themselves to get a feel for how the endings were written on paper.

When it comes to considering how to end your story, make sure that you consider the genre and what the main character wants and needs. You don’t even need to have the ending sorted before you begin writing your screenplay, as it may come naturally to you during the writing process! Many writers apart this style of writing process.

Overall, the ending needs to feel authentic to the story and the character arc. So, what are you waiting for? Get writing your endings today!

Top tip: get a trusted friend, family member, or writing partner to read over your screenplay. This way you can get feedback on your ending and if they liked it, or perhaps they have some editing suggestions for you. This can be extremely helpful!

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