Toolbox – Storytelling

How to end a story

You’ve invested weeks (months! years!) of hard work writing your story, and it all comes down to this... The end. The last line. No pressure.

You’ve invested weeks (months! years!) of hard work writing your story, and it all comes down to this. The end. The wrap-up. The last line. No pressure, but if you mess this up then, well, it’s all been for nothing. Like we said, no pressure.

A great ending sticks with your viewer long after they leave the cinema or turn off the TV. It needs to make sense. And it should make the viewer feel something – whether that's satisfaction or rage, joy or despair. Good endings show how your protagonist has changed over the course of the story. If they're still the same person, then your story's probably lacking character development.

Your story ending should give your viewer a new perspective, or open their mind to a new way of thinking. It shouldn't leave the viewer too confused (although some stories do that). And it should deliver your cast and hero to a new place – even if that turns out to be a bit of a trick.

There are many ways to end a story, and we're going to show you some of our favourite ways to tie up those loose ends. Warning: there are lots of spoilers.

The 6 basic endings

  1. 1. The resolved ending
  2. 2. The unresolved ending
  3. 3. The ambiguous ending
  4. 4. The unexpected ending
  5. 5. The tied ending
  6. 6. The expanded ending

1. The resolved ending

Some stories end in a neat way that answers any questions, ties up all the loose ends, and leaves the viewer satisfied. Like when you eat a delicious meal followed by the perfect-sized dessert. A resolved ending doesn't leave space for sequels, but it does bring closure.

However, a resolved ending doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending. In the 2018 remake of 'A Star is Born', we witness a love story that we always suspect is going to end badly. Although the main characters Jack and Ally are deeply in love, they face hurdles that ultimately prove to be too much, and Jack removes himself from Ally's life.

In a perfect example of a resolved ending, the final scene of the film shows Ally paying tribute to Jack by performing a song that he'd written for her. As she plays, the film switches between Ally's performance and the one time that Jack performed the song for her. It's a real tear-jerker of a scene, and the perfect ending to a beautiful story.


2. The unresolved ending

A totally different type of ending, the unresolved ending leaves the viewer with lots of questions, loose ends, and potentially frustration. While there's likely to be a degree of resolution, the viewer will probably wonder how the story is going to continue, and what will happen to its protagonist.

'Doubt' was a big critical success upon its release in 2008. Based on a play, it looks at the tricky subjects of faith, religion, and trust, in a subtle, profound way. So, in some ways, its ambiguous ending makes perfect sense.

Sister Aloysius has her doubts about protagonist Father Flynn, and tries her best to bring him down. In the end, we don’t find out the whole story about whether or not her allegations are true. Instead, we’re left in a beautiful state of doubt – which fits the title of the film perfectly.


3. The ambiguous ending

There's a lot to love about Nicolas Winding Refn’s art film, 'Drive'. Ryan Gosling looking moody. Ryan Gosling chewing on a toothpick. Ryan Gosling wearing a stunning jacket. But we also love it for its totally open ending that tells the viewer... well, not much.

The end of the story sees Gosling a.k.a. Driver engaging in a final showdown that leaves him rather worse for wear. Yes, he manages to get up and drive away. But how long will he last with those wounds? I wouldn't put money on Driver being around in a few days' time.

Driver also has a bit of a thing with Irene, played by Carey Mulligan, throughout the story. Do we find out whether they live happily ever after, in a suburban home filled with beautiful children? Do we heck! We're left wondering what on earth Winding Refn was trying to say with this dark, mysterious thriller.


4. The unexpected ending

Some people call this a twist ending, because it's a plot twist that the audience didn't quite see coming – an ending that's a little unexpected considering the rest of the story. Some twists are mammoth, and will have you shaking your fist at the screen in rage. Others are more subtle.

Take the first Rocky film, for example (a film that we've explored in other posts, like How to tell a story. The film's a classic sports underdog set-up, where we expect to see our hero triumph in the final scene. And he does, to an extent. But this is no classic fairytale.

While Rocky manages to go an unprecedented 15 rounds with Apollo Creed – which is a victory in itself – he still loses the match on points. There's some cause for celebration, but it's not quite the victory we usually expect in these types of stories. You might call it a gently unexpected ending.


5. The tied ending

This type of ending – which some call a tie-back ending – is when a story comes full circle to arrive back where it started. One way to do this is to start your story by showing how it ends, then use the rest of your story to show how your characters reached that point.

The 2004 film 'Crash' is the perfect example of a tie-back story. It starts with a car crash, then explores various plot points and character arcs that created the circumstances for the crash to happen. When this ending's done right, like in 'Crash', it can be a super-smart and effective way to end your story.


6. The expanded ending

An expanded ending is another word for an epilogue (which we dissect in our post What is an epilogue?). This ending always takes place in the future, after the main events of your story have happened. Filmmakers often use it to give a final comment, sometimes hinting that there’ll be a sequel to a film.

After seven books (and accompanying movies), with a neverending array of plot twists, the Harry Potter series finally drew to a close with 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2'. At the end of the final installment, there’s an epilogue – set 19 years after the events in the rest of the book – where readers get to see the fates of the characters as adults.

It’s a reward for readers who spent so much time in Harry’s wizarding world. And it also reassures nervous Potter fanatics that all his suffering and dragon battling wasn’t in vain.


Start and end your stories with Boords

However you choose to end your story, do it with Boords – the online storyboarding app for creative professionals. Simplify your pre-production process with storyboards, scripts, and animatics – then gather feedback – all in one place. Creating storyboards (and story endings) has never been simpler.

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