You’ve probably heard this before as writers, but it is so true–namely, a bad ending can ruin what you created. Bad endings can trash what came before.
Here’s an example.
I recently watched a film called “Skyline.” Another one of those bad aliens come to conquer earth type of stories.
The premise was good, that is the impact of alien attacks on LA and a small group of twenty-somethings trapped in an apartment. They were not soldiers or resistance fighters, just people trying to deal with space ships blowing the heck out of stuff and killing anything that moved.
The action was not bad, and they actually sounded like young people who were terrified.
And here comes the spoiler alert, spoiler alert!
After a lot of carnage, the remaining young couple-the girl is pregnant get taken up to the alien ship where they will surely have their brains sucked out as the aliens are doing with the human population. The people lose the battle. The man gets turned into an alien and protects his human girlfriend. The end. Over the credits, there are silly images of the man-turned-alien carrying her away.
No dramatic changes. No damn sense. This bad ending made me mad I had invested time watching the movie.
Here are better endings. They couples’s characters have changed. They kissed and got killed by the aliens. Or they could have escaped and been the last couple left to repopulate the planet.
We don’t want bad endings to happen to our stories. How do we prevent it?
Make sure the ending follows the rules of drama. In other words, make sure our characters change, for the better or for the worst. That way, we reward our audience or readers for their time.
End with a punch instead of a whimper. It can be a physical or emotional punch or with a twist (M. Night Shyamalan is famous for these.)
Give your work to readers to see if the ending satisfies them. If not, ask what did I do wrong.
Don’t end with anything that conflicts with your characters.
An example is the book, “Hannibal.” FBI agent Clarice Starlings runs off with cannibal Lecter. The problem was that Thomas Harris did such a magnificent job with Starling’s character in “Silence of the Lambs,” we just can’t buy that ending.
Then there are endings where you remark, Where the heck did that come from? Or exclaim, That makes no sense.
Examples. After Jodie Foster’s return from talking with aliens in “Contact,” she is crucified before a government committee, while two other government types see evidence she has contacted aliens. In the end, Foster’s character smiles happily as she resumes her job seeking aliens. Huh?
In “A.I,” David the boy robot simply goes to bed with his dead human mother brought by aliens. Huh?
When I leave a movie with a great ending, I feel uplifted and complete. For example, the last installment of “Harry Potter.” Humphrey Bogart and Claude Reins walking off into the fog together in “Casablanca.” In “Fargo,” Marge and her husband showing they’ve kept their humanity after all the murder and mayhem.
So, make sure your ending sends the audience home with a smile or tear, and not cursing that they spent $8 on a movie ticket. And for superior alien-invades-movie, skip “Skyline” and watch “War of the Worlds” (either the George Pal or Spielberg versions).
Not surprising, you can find lists of movies with bad endings. Here are a few:
If you have any more examples of bad endings, please email them to me.