Every writer has been there. You’ve got a brilliant idea for a story. Scenes vividly play out in your mind’s eye, the characters aren’t so much your creation, more born straight into your consciousness, fully formed, living their parts. This is beyond make believe, it is a recounting of a story already hurtling full-throttle toward the paper, dynamic conflict to the fore, every action seamlessly leading to another, this is ready to go! There’s only one problem; you’ve got no ending.
Will you take the risk, like so many times before, and start writing in the hope, much in the manner of Michael Mann, an end naturally comes, only to, much like Mann, peter out unsatisfactorily? You might be lucky and find that dynamic, conclusive end, but if you have begun with no end in mind, is there not always the chance that you may well meander, diluting your ‘brilliant’ story in the desperate hope for a satisfactory end?
Admittedly, this tends to be the downfall of many a surprise hit television series. They have a brilliant concept and or idea and the initial execution are spectacular. Television, being such a fickle beast, catches the writer unaware. So many so have burnt out after a stellar opening season or even half season.
How many shows go out like Seinfeld? Riding high and still a must see for many, Jerry Seinfeld decided to quit whilst he was ahead. Ballsy. Lucky. Unlike my writing hero, Joss Whedon, whose seminal series Firefly was cancelled before it could gain traction. It seemed the trauma of that experience influenced his approach to his next television series, resulting in one of his weakest televisual outputs in the middling Dollhouse, a series that lasted two seasons, the arc never fully realised and the end unsatisfactory.
The end matters, it’s what we remember. Or not. Remember Angel Heart? The mildly indulgent Mickey Rourke vehicle, he ran around for the whole film confusing the hell out of everyone, having gratuitous sex with Lisa Bonet and fearing Robert DeNiro. It was bonkers, but the end pulled it all together, leaving you with your mouth hanging open as you realised what had happened.
Remember the end of Blade Runner? Not the Hollywood-driving-off-into-the-sunset(misty evening) ending; the epilogue. No, the proper ending. Rutger Hauer’s replicant’s final moments, his understanding of humanity. What an end!
Back with to Joss references (reverences maybe?) and the conclusion of Buffy The Vampire Slayer; the empowering of all the girls, the collapse of the Hellmouth, Buffy no longer the sole defender of humankind from beast, ghouls and vampires. Perfect.
There were the shows crushed by the infamous writers strike or a bad title. The first two seasons of Heroes were amazing. We were so invested in the characters. Admittedly the save the cheerleader, save the world thing got a little wearisome, but those first two seasons, as Sylar scythed through gifted individuals and Peter acquired powers by osmosis, they were excellent the tensions of the mysterious Sylar driving the show. Then the writers strike happened. Seasons three and the final fourth terrible season suffered irreparably.
Prison Break, a show with a simple and compelling premise, suffered from that rare problem of having the end in the title! The first season showed the planning and execution. The second season showed a collection of characters we were invested in from the previous season, in the aftermath of the breakout, the Prison Break. Season three, with nowhere to take a story with the premise in the title, decides to break the lead protagonist back into prison! It went pretty badly after that.
Films that have tanked midway or towards the end are much more common. In recent memory, there is the much derided Fantastic Four. The film promised so much in the first hour, then became an unwitting car crash in the final act. Another film that turns into an unholy mess midway through is the Tom Cruise starrer Oblivion. The third act is so poor, I cannot even remember the end.
As eager as l am to write a story or script, long or short, I always want to know the end, where I am going, before I begin, so hopefully, at very least, my story will have a satisfactory ending if nothing else.