Most stories end too soon. As soon as the hero defeats the villain, that might seem to be the end of the story, but it’s not. Just seeing the hero defeat the villain is never enough because once the hero defeats the villain, we want to know how this victory changes the hero. That’s because the real story is never just achieving a physical goal but in changing to become a better person.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero finally wins her first court case and keeps an innocent woman from going to prison. That might seem like a success, but it’s not the end of the story. The real story is always how achieving a goal changes the hero by shattering their limiting belief that they’ve had since the beginning.
In the beginning of “Legally Blonde,” the hero thinks she needs a man because she’s not strong enough to stand on her own two feet. After winning her first court case, we still don’t know if the hero has changed for the better.
Only when the hero meets her ex-boyfriend (who dumped her earlier) do we get the real ending. The ex-boyfriend wants to get back with the hero, but the hero now realizes she’s a strong woman, and she turns the ex-boyfriend down, completing the beginning when this ex-boyfriend dumped the hero. This gives us the emotional satisfaction that the hero has not only won, but changed for the better by finally abandoning her initial limiting belief that she was never good enough without a man.
Mediocre stories end when the hero achieves a goal (the plot). Good stories end when the hero next demonstrates how they’ve changed for the better (the character arc). Great stories go one step further and show how the hero’s actions have changed the lives of others as well as show the hero in an even better position.
In “Legally Blonde,” the hero has graduated at the top of her class and become friends with her ex-boyfriend’s fiancé. Even better, her ex-boyfriend has graduated with no job offers and no girlfriend. To make the hero’s life even better, she has been dating the lawyer who helped her initially in law school and now he plans to propose to her.
So “Legally Blonde” provides three progressively more satisfying endings:
- The hero wins her first court case.
- The hero realizes she’s a strong, independent woman and turns down her ex-boyfriend who she has been chasing all this time.
- The hero graduates at the top of her class, made friends with her ex-boyfriend’s fiancé, and has the satisfaction of seeing her ex-boyfriend graduating with nothing. Best of all, the hero’s new boyfriend plans to propose to her.
This three-part story ending is the key to creating an emotionally satisfying and meaningful story. Look at how this three-party story ending works in “Terminator 2”:
- The hero (the good Terminator) defeats the villain (the liquid metal Terminator).
- The hero realizes why humans cry because they realize how precious life can be.
- The hero sacrifices himself in a molten vat as Sarah Connor realizes that if a machine can learn the value of a human life, maybe there’s hope more people will realize this as well.
Look at how this three-part story ending works in “The Shawshank Redemption”:
- The hero finally escapes from prison and gains his freedom.
- The hero takes all the money the villain illegally had stored in a bank and sends incriminating evidence to the press, prompting the villain to kill himself.
- The hero sends a cryptic message to his friend, and his friend follows the mysterious instructions until he too is finally free and reunites with the hero on a beach in Mexico.
If you want to create a great ending, make sure your story includes all three crucial parts that give us more than just a plot ending:
- The hero finally achieves a physical goal.
- The hero has changed to embrace a far better life.
- The hero’s actions have changed the lives of others for the better.
What too many writers do is they start with a great idea and settle for the first idea they have to end their story. Don’t do that. Plan your ending first and make sure you include three parts to your ending. Then work backwards to maximize this ending.
By focusing on creating a three-part story ending, you’ll increase your odds of writing a great story.