Adjust your story endings

a pair of scales“This was great, too bad the ending sucked.” Endings are hard. No matter if you’re writing games, novels, or movies. But here’s a tool to help you adjust the mood and feel of your story endings. But you need to get one thing straight first.

Get an overview of your story threads

To keep it simple we only have two story threads in this example. You may have many more going on. List them up.

Thread 1: the A story (or primary story). I’ll use the same example as in this post about A and B stories in games. Joe is a fat, rich, banker. When stressed he turns out to be great with weapons and really kick ass – plus he’s intelligent. A bunch of  zombies are released by a terror cell and Joe needs to stop the zombies and prevent the terror cell from carrying out any more attacks, all while not dying.

Thread 2: the B story (or secondary story) is that Joe hates his son, Lenny. And with good reason. Lenny is a drug addict and a lazy bum who lives off the money of his dad’s bank.

The four game endings

With only these two threads the story can go four ways:

1. Happy ending A and B story: The zombies are killed, the terror cell eliminated, and Joe and Lenny embrace in a dad-son hug.

2. Happy ending A story: The zombies are killed, the terror cell eliminated, but Joe and Lenny never learn to get along.

3. Happy ending B story: Joe and Lenny learn to get along, but the zombies take over and the terror cell succeed in their evil plans.

4. A and B story in ruins: The zombies take over and the terror cell succeed in their evil plans and Joe and Lenny never learn to get along.

To generalize a bit, number 1 is an American ending. 2 and 3 are European. 4 is arty and a sure economic failure. I usually go with 2 or 3 unless the client wants to go somewhere else. You can do sort of in-betweens. That’s another story.

Tip the scales

No matter if you have four story endings or ten you can fine tune your story’s ending by deciding which story threads to end happily, and which to end in ruin. See it as a way to adjust the tone in which your story is going to end.

Listing these scenarios for a client makes it easy for them to decide how they want the story to end. But don’t forget to push your favourite ending – after all you’re the writer.

Thanks for reading.

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