The ending makes the biggest impact so you need to plan your ending before you start writing and write yourself straight into a dead end. That’s actually what happened with Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” where they couldn’t figure out the ending so they dumped their original story and rewrote the whole script, which is why “The Good Dinosaur” came out almost a year later than planned. When you don’t plan your ending, expect to waste plenty of time trying to figure out your story and dumping practically everything you’ve written.
The best type of ending is the unsolvable dilemma. That occurs when the hero faces two equally unappealing choices. With choice A, the hero will likely sacrifice his or her goals. With choice B, the hero will likely achieve his or her goal, but at a cost morally or ethically.
At the end of “The Proposal,” the hero has fooled everyone into thinking she’s going to get married to an American just so she can stay in the United States to work. Her two choices are:
- Keep up the sham and get married under a lie
- Admit the sham and lose her goal of staying in the country
Neither choice is appealing, but the key isn’t what happens but why. The hero can’t choose the first option of keeping up a lie because that would make her unappealing despite achieving her goal of staying in America. The hero must disappoint everyone by choosing her second option, but that would keep her from achieving her goal that she’s been pursuing the whole time.
The key to creating an unsolvable dilemma is to force the hero to take the hardest way out. In “The Proposal,” that means admitting to everyone, during the wedding, that she’s been lying the whole time.
The unsolvable dilemma typically works out because the hero achieves his or her goal by seemingly giving it up. In “The Proposal,” the hero admits she’s been lying and agrees to be deported, only to really fall in love with the man she had coerced into pretending to be her fiancé. Thus she’s able to stay in the country after all.
To create an unsolvable dilemma, you must give your hero two choices. Choice A gives the hero what he or she wants but at a moral or ethical cost. Choice B seems to keep the hero from his or her goal, but forces the hero to grow and learn something to become more sympathetic and admirable in the process.
The unsolvable dilemma only seems unsolvable, but you better figure out how it really ends so you can go back and trick the audience into thinking it’s really an unsolvable dilemma.
Start from the ending and work your way back to the beginning. That’s a far more effective way to write than starting from the beginning and hoping you’ll reach a logical and satisfying ending, which rarely happens.
Know your ending. Then disguise your ending to make it seem like an unsolvable dilemma. Do that and your ending will keep your audience spell bound until the last page of your screenplay.