Every movie starts off with an intriguing question and then ends by answering that question. In “Star Wars,” the big question is whether Darth Vader will succeed in destroying the rebel base. In the end, he fails.
In “WALL-E,” the big question is whether the Earth will ever support life again and in the end, it does.
The key to introducing the intriguing question is not to reveal what it is in the beginning but tease us until near the end. At the beginning of “Star Wars,” we have no idea why Darth Vader is attacking and boarding Princess Leia’s starship. Likewise at the beginning of “WALL-E,” we have no idea what destroyed the Earth and what’s going to happen next.
Every story must ask an intriguing question and then answer that in the end. That makes a complete story.
A recent movie called “The Old Guard” starts out with the question on what will happen to a small band of immortal warriors. In the beginning, we don’t realize that the immortals are being set up. By the end, we learn the villain wants to capture them for their DNA.
While “The Old Guard” isn’t a great movie, it’s a complete story and entertaining if you like action and fantasy. What happens when stories tell incomplete stories is that they fail to satisfy.
Imagine watching “The Empire Strikes Back” if you never saw “Star Wars.” The entire story wouldn’t make much sense since it fails to tell a complete story.
Watch “Catching Fire,” the sequel to “The Hunger Games” and if you failed to see the first movie, “Catching Fire” wouldn’t make much sense.
“The Hunger Games” tells a complete story where a girl tries to protect her little sister and survives a brutal battle to the death before coming back home again. That’s a complete story.
A similar Young Adult (YA) story called “The Maze Runner” fails to tell a complete story. In this story, a teenager wakes up in a mysterious maze. By the end of the movie, you still have no idea why this hero was int he maze or its purpose, nor do you understand the villain’s goals. As a result, the movie ends with an inconclusive ending, which creates an unsatisfying ending.
The best way to outline a story isn to start with an intriguing question and then make sure you answer that question at the end. Then make sure you tease the initial question out as long as possible before finally answering it.
That’s the way to tell a complete story. Now the hard part is making that story interesting from start to finish, but having an intriguing question with a conclusive ending is the first step.