Forcing the Ending: Finishing a Screenplay a Year Later


A while back, I participated in Script Frenzy, a writing project/contest that encourages writers to finish a 100-page screenplay within a single month.

I hit the goal, and actually exceeded it, but the project was actually not “completed” when I completed the contest. I finished the contest, but I never wrapped up the story of the script. And then So You Created a Wormhole happened, with everything that entailed, and I had to leave the screenplay in a metaphorical drawer somewhere while other things took precedence.

Almost a year later, I’ve finally come back to the untitled project. It remains without a conclusion, although most of the pieces are there. I just need to figure out how to wrap it up in a satisfactory way.

Trouble is, writing something and leaving it for any length of time is counterproductive. The project isn’t the same as I originally envisioned it. I’m different. The moment in time that served as the story’s incubator is over. Now it’s just a pile of pages, without a clearly defined path to the edge of the forest. I’m in the thick of the trees, and I know there’s a way out — I just can’t remember what it is, or how to find it.

It’s a weird experience. I really do enjoy the script quite a bit; I’m still enamored of the characters and the scenario, which focuses around a high school girl investigating the life of her father in the weeks after his death. But after so much time away, replotting the course has been pretty difficult. And I still don’t really know how to end the thing.

So part of the solution has just been to smash the square peg through the round hole. It might splinter, but the cool thing about writing is, I can clean up the mess later. I can find what works and what doesn’t, and refine the ending once I understand more about it.

A big part of the key to endings is characters, and I think I have a good enough understanding of my characters that the ending will work, to a degree, regardless of what I do with it. Something I’ve come to understand about storytelling is that, while knowing where you going is as important as getting there almost always, the very best thing you can do with any story is let your characters lead you. Creating an amazing plot is nice, but really no one care about arbitrary events — only about people. Great characters shape the world around them, even as they are shaped by it. And good storytelling provides you with people whose reactions to the world are worth viewing.

So the ultimate plan is to let the characters end the story. Let them continue forward on the path that makes sense to them. Let them bounce off each other like molecules and see where they wind up. I’m coming to the realization that there may not be a way for this story to have a really happy ending, despite being something of an drama/comedy/something. I don’t know that these characters can reconcile their differences in a way that’s going to work.

That might be okay. I might be guiding the story toward a conclusion because it needs one, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be forcing events that don’t make sense. Part of it is trusting in the characters, and since I don’t remember my path through the woods of this script, I haven’t got any choice but to let them guide me, and believe that the place to which they guide me will be the right one.

Published by Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

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