The book “Scene & Structure” offers a simple way to start and end a story. To start a story, you must understand who your hero is and what their weakness might be. Then the start of your story is a moment of change where the hero’s life gets turned upside down by challenging that hero’s weakness.
In “Die Hard,” John McClane’s arrogance has broken up his marriage. So the story begins with John McClane landing in Los Angeles to try and get back with his wife again. His greatest weakness is his arrogance so by meeting with his wife to fix their marriage, he’s putting himself in the greatest moment of danger. It’s not physical danger but emotional danger.
Think of the biggest lesson your hero needs to learn and that’s the weakness they must face. In “Legally Blonde,” Elle needs to learn to be a strong woman, so the story begins with her thinking she’s going to get engaged to her boyfriend and she’ll never have to worry about becoming the strong woman she needs to be.
The start of every story is about changing the hero’s life. Once the hero’s life has been changed, the hero sets a goal to fix this problem. This goal immediately creates a question that makes us want to know if the hero achieves this goal or not to put their life back in order again.
So the three steps to starting a story are:
- Change the hero’s life to attack their greatest weakness
- This forces the hero to define a goal to achieve
- And this raises a question in the audience’s mind, wondering if the hero will achieve this goal or not
Ending a story is much easier. You simply answer the question about whether the hero achieved his or her goal or not.
In “Die Hard,” the question is will John McClane get back with his wife. Then the ending shows John McClane getting back with his wife.
In “Legally Blonde,” the question is will Elle get engaged to her boyfriend. Then the ending shows that Elle has grown so much and gained confidence in herself that she no longer needs her boyfriend any more.
Think of your own story. What change can your story introduce that will change the hero’s life? How does this force the hero to pursue a goal? Knowing the hero’s goal, does the hero achieve this goal or not?
Good movies make this very clear. Bad movies do not, which is partially why they’re so bad.