Imagine watching “Star Wars” where Luke is about to attack the Death Star and blow it up before the Death Star blows up the rebel base. Suddenly, the movie ends and you have no idea whether Luke succeeded in saving the rebel base or whether the Death Star blew it up.
How many people would have loved “Star Wars” if it ended before showing us what happened?
The mark of a great story is that it introduces problems and then shows us how that problem gets resolved in the end. That’s also the mark of a bad story where problems never get resolved or they never get introduced to begin with.
In “The Art of Self Defense,” an accountant is beaten up and motivated to learn the martial arts. Part of the problem is that he’s timid, so that story needs to conclude by showing him dominant and strong in the end.
A minor part of the story is that his co-workers dismiss him as weak, so that story concludes when the hero boldly tells off his co-workers and takes the chair of one of them while suggesting the other two do push ups, which they meekly agree to do.
Yet another minor part of the story is when the hero’s boss asks him to do his work and to show his new found aggressiveness, the hero punches his boss in the throat, which concludes that story.
Still another minor story begins when the hero’s dog gets killed and the hero has to find out who killed his dog so he can get revenge.
An even more minor story occurs when a bully pushes the hero around after banging his pickup truck door against the hero’s car. Later the hero spots this bully’s orange pickup truck and not only knocks off the side mirror with a karate chop, but also flattens the back tire with a karate kick.
Notice that “The Art of Self Defense” has plenty of minor problems that the hero must solve on the way to solving his big problem? It’s these minor problems that get resolved that gives a story a unified, coherent feel. Watch any good movie and you’ll see minor problems ultimately resolved in the end.
Now watch a bad movie and you’ll notice that minor problems pop up and never get resolved. This creates a disjointed, incoherent feel to any story. After all, why bother bringing up a problem if the hero never gets around to resolving it in the end?
In a bad movie like “Mortal Engines,” the hero feels intimidated by his boss. Yet this feeling of intimidating never gets resolved in the end against his boss, so why bother introducing it in the first place?
Good stories introduce lots of problems and resolve them in the end. Bad stories introduce lots of problems and ignore them in the end. So the lesson is clear. Don’t introduce any problems in the hero’s life unless you’re willing to resolve that problem in the end.
People want complete stories, not incomplete tales that never answer your questions. Stories need to give a sense of satisfaction and completion in the end. If a story fails to do that, it fails as a story.