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Six Compelling Ways To End A Screenplay

Actor standing on a movie set in front of two cameras and a person with a clapperboard

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Have you ever wondered what sets some screenplays apart from others and leaves you wanting to know more? They’re the narratives that just have something irresistible to them, something that you can’t resist becoming engaged or entranced by them.

The secret ingredient to a captivating screenplay? A compelling and well-crafted ending.

Writing the perfect screenplay is no easy task, so many creatives choose to enrol in filmmaking courses or study degrees such as a bachelor of screen production just to get the proper framework.

If your script or screenplay feels a little unpolished, it might require a compelling ending. Here are six key ways to end your screenplay in an engaging and captivating way that will leave the audience wanting more.

1. A Cliffhanger

Looking for a way to keep your audience on the edge of their seats? According to a high number of filmmaking courses and writing experts, a well-written cliffhanger might be just what you need. Cliffhangers can help elevate a narrative beyond the page and leave your audience guessing potential outcomes.

A powerful way to end a screenplay, cliffhangers, when done correctly, can leave your audience wanting more. However, you’ll leave your audience dissatisfied or even irritated at an unfinished story when a cliffhanger is executed poorly.

To make sure your cliffhanger is memorable for all the right reasons, ask yourself if your story is complete or if it’s actually incomplete. A cliffhanger is not the only way to end a screenplay, so don’t be afraid to continue writing if it feels right.

2. A Surprise Or Plot-Twist

A surprise ending needs to be unexpected but also plausible. A surprise ending could be something like an unexpected change of heart for a character, a villain becoming a hero or vice versa, or a big reveal of a secret.

Keep the surprise within the believable realm of the screenplay. When done correctly, a surprise ending is refreshing and exciting for ending a screenplay. You’ll need to ensure your plot has enough clues to set up the surprise. If a surprise is too outlandish, you’ll leave audiences frustrated or disappointed.

The plot is one of the most important literary elements in all stories. It is the sequence of events that takes the protagonist on a journey – whether that’s a literal journey from one place to another, a journey in which they learn how something came to be, or a journey in which they learn something about themselves. Of this sequence, the first major event is the action that sets the story into motion, called the “inciting incident”. Then they react, and that reaction sets off another event. These causes and effects mount in intensity and overall epicness until the climax of the story.

3. Circular Endings

One of the most popular ways to finish a screenplay is to have a circular ending. A circular ending shows the protagonist, and sometimes the antagonist, doing a full circle on their journey and ending up back where they were before, albeit with a different perspective on the situation.

Circular endings help improve a character’s overall development in a screenplay because you must assess how the journey will affect them. What character development will they need to be different? What experiences will they have before being pushed to make a change? These questions can help you rethink the journey and whether the circular ending is satisfying for the audience.

4. Bookend

A bookend ending is slightly similar to a circular ending in that your protagonist ends up back where they started but with a change in their circumstances.

However, it differs from a circular ending because you deliberately place a central message or pose a question at the beginning of the screenplay and then use the character’s ending to answer it. The bookend ending usually represents a significant transformation for your protagonist while circling back to answer the original question.

A screenplay with a bookend conclusion is common practice in many filmmaking courses as they require a clear framework, forethought, and structured narratives. Many screenwriters choose to complete a bachelor of screen production to understand the nuances and specifics that make up the perfect bookend screenplay.

5. Moral

One of the oldest endings of story-telling, a moral ending, is common with cause-based screenplays as it follows a principle that resonates with the audience.

A moral ending aims to teach or remind the audience of the importance of right or wrong and good versus evil. Often used for fairytale-based stories, moral endings are a great way to end screenplays for younger audiences as the lessons taught in the story resonate with parents and young children alike.

6. A Funny Or Humorous Ending

Who doesn’t love humour? A screenplay with a humorist twist or a funny scene as a finisher can do wonders. If your screenplay is lighthearted, comedic, or even part of the romance genre, a humorous ending might be the way to go.

Your screenplay doesn’t need to be a heavy comedy to finish on a lighter note. Ending with a bit of comedic humour can help close a narrative loop and assure audiences that your characters will do just fine post-credits. A small joke, a heart-warming misunderstanding, or even a funny pun can help satisfyingly finish a story.

Wrapping Up

If you’re having trouble finishing your screenplay the right way, you should consider getting formal education to help hone your screenwriting skills. Enrolling in a bachelor of screen production or in a filmmaking course can help clarify your characters and the ending of your epic and exciting narrative.

Featured Image: Actor standing on a movie set in front of two cameras and a person with a clapperboard Courtesy of Australian Performing Arts Conservatory (APAC)
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