Ending a Scene

Any time you end a scene, you should make sure it not only holds your audiences interest, but also intrigues them enough to keep reading (or watching). In her book “Outlining Your Novel” K.M. Weiland lists several ways to end a scene with a cliffhanger that pulls the audience into the next scene.

  • Promise of conflict. Think of the Death Star approaching the rebel base in “Star Wars.”
  • A secret kept. In “Tootsie,” the hero is constantly in danger of having someone discover his secret that he’s not really a woman.
  • A major decision or vow. In “The Princess Bride,” one of the major characters announces that he will not rest until he can kill the man who murdered his father.
  • An announcement of a shocking event. In “Deep Impact,” the President confirms that a meteor is going to collide with the Earth.
  • A moment of high emotion. Think of the high emotional state of Sarah Connor after her nightmare of seeing the world blow up in “Terminator 2.” This spurs her into going off to kill the inventor of SkyNet.
  • A reversal or surprise that turns the story upside down. If you saw “The Crying Game,” you know its major surprise that completely turns the story around.
  • A new idea. Think every James Bond movie where James Bond seems doomed but suddenly gets an idea for getting out of his predicament. Now we want to know if he’ll succeed or not.
  • An unanswered question. In “Saving Private Ryan,” Tom Hanks plays a military leader who has a background that the other soldiers try to guess. Until we know what Tom Hanks really did before the war, that unanswered question keeps us following the rest of the story.
  • A mysterious line of dialogue. “Citizen Kane” kicks the entire story off when he whispers “Rosebud” and nobody knows what it means.
  • A portentous metaphor. Think of the appearance of the monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey” that signals a major shift in the story.
  • A turning point. Think of “Finding Nemo” where Nemo gets kidnapped by a scuba diver and taken away.

Study the scenes of your favorite movie and notice how they end. Then notice how the ending of every scene pulls the audience along to the next scene. Scenes never exist in isolation. Scenes always act like beads on a string that connect together to form a whole story. The better you write your scenes, the more interesting and intriguing your screenplay is going to be.

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