Story structure

Life is hard - hands grasp desperately to the top of a cliff face

I wandered in the wilderness for a long time as a writer because almost all of the screenwriting bibles fail to address the most fundamental question: Why do we need stories?

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One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - Chief hugs a lobotomised RP McMurphy (Jack Nicholson)

When it comes to endings, you can tick all the boxes in terms of theory but ultimately there is only one thing that matters.


Thelma and Louise sail off over the Grand Canyon in their Thunderbird

A profoundly moving ending depends first on building tension. But how you release that tension is just as critical.


Kramer vs Kramer Ted (Dustin Hoffman) hugs Billy just before he is about to surrender him

If you want to end your film on an affecting up beat, you’re going to need to precede that with a very significant down beat. (Or vice versa).

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Dead Poets Society Midpoint Mr Keating (Robin Williams) confronts Todd (Ethan Hawke) and the timid student finally reveals what lurks beneath his timid shell

An emotionally powerful ending depends on 2 key moments before the climax itself. And neither of them is the Inciting Incident or a Turning Point.


Dead Man Walking Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) confesses to Sister Prejean (Susan Sarandon)

Most screenplays have some sort of character arc but this “transformation” typically fails to move us. Here I explore what sort of change does tend to profoundly affect your audience.


Lars and the Real Girl Lars and Margo at the graveside Great Ending

In the great endings the hero typically does in the final act what they could not have done at the beginning, and this shift seems to be fundamental if you want to profoundly move your audience.


Strictly Ballroom Scott (Paul Mercurio) and Fran (Tara Morice) do the Paso Doble

Most screenplays suffer because the resolution comes too easily. You must make it really hard for your hero – and that doesn’t mean making the antagonist 6 inches taller or 40 IQ points smarter.


Schindler's List Oskar receives a ring from his Jewish workers - the Elixir

In the last post, I noted the hero rarely gets what they wanted in a profoundly moving ending. Here we explore the ecstasy they get to balance the agony.

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Casablanca Ending Rick Says Goodbye Ilsa

Think your hero needs to triumph at the climax to satisfy the audience? That’s a rookie mistake. Here’s why …