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plot Lots of "beginning", lots of "middle" ... no "end"

Seeing as there's been a bit of an influx of screen-writers lately, it feels like a good time to ask for help on this point: how do you figure out how (or when) to end your story? Alternatively: do you typically start with the end/twist and work backwards?

I'm more of a craftsman than an artist - give me some raw material and I can turn it into something beautiful (or at least functional) and what writing I've done to date has usually been dictated by a given project or theme. Several years ago, as part of a creative writing course, I encompassed the maxim to "write about what you know" and that's certainly helped me. I've also got used to combining ideas inspired by two or three different real-life people or experiences into one character or scenario.

But I still find it really hard to figure out where these stories should go, because the vast majority of the real life inspiration comes to a natural, undramatic end ... except the ones that continue to meander aimlessly into the future! 🤪 It probably doesn't help that I'm a natural problem solver, so all of the "stuff" that makes a traditional "second act" work is completely alien to me! In a way, I suppose this is a variation of @Panos 's problem re different voices - so my question would be: are there any equivalent techniques that I can use to get inside the problem-worsening head of my characters? :bag:
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I do have an ending in mind by the time I sit down and start to write. But sometimes by the time I get there, the characters have something different in mind, and trying to get them to exactly that place would be like jamming a square peg into a round hole.

So I leave open the possibility that things will end a little differently than I intended, but I find it important to have a destination in mind when I start to write.
 
I do have an ending in mind by the time I sit down and start to write.

Does that mean you avoid writing anything until you have a fairly well-structured story to tell? What do you do with odd scenes that come to mind before they have story of their own?
 
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Think of the point you are trying to make.

If you can figure out WHY your story is being made, and focus on it, it helps sometimes.

At least for me.

With my own script, I wanted to create a story about a mother who loves their family, but looses them to an unstoppable force, and has to deal with that while still finding the resolve to carry on.... Or at least, that's what it became as I tweaked it to fit my time, budget, and abilities. In reality, i just wanted to feel emotion as an astronaut blew up their spaceship to save other life from a black hole. That was the one scene I had in my head the whole time.
 
Think of the point you are trying to make.

If you can figure out WHY your story is being made, and focus on it, it helps sometimes.

Hmmm. Yeah. I have one recent and complete "beginning-middle-end" story, which was written for a specific purpose, so there was a clear WHY in that. I suppose the problem I have with the other ideas is that there wasn't the same amount of WHY - they evolved from a scene that was inspired by some external stimulus. I can work backwards from that to explain how the character(s) get to this point, but I'm missing their motivation to go on ... or I just can't invent the kind of dramatic tension needed to make it worth watching.
 
I can work backwards from that to explain how the character(s) get to this point, but I'm missing their motivation to go on ... or I just can't invent the kind of dramatic tension needed to make it worth watching.

Then I think backstory might help. Like for me, astronaut/emotional/black hole destruction.... The only way to build the why was to research the character's family and history. Those things gave me the emotion.

After that, I built the why she was even destroying anything..... Because her family was gone, and she needed to destroy the thing responsible as retribution.

I would have never come up with the family dynamic without researching the main character's backstory.
 
This might be unpopular, but you don't always need WHY, WHERE is enough. You construct the story depending on where you characters move. Like in sitcoms. What do they want? And how do they get there?
 
WHERE is enough. You construct the story depending on where you characters move. Like in sitcoms. What do they want?
Well this is exactly my difficulty in adapting ideas from real life: the people I know don't live in sitcoms - their lives (like their dialogue) are pretty undramatic, and the vast majority don't want anything other than to plod on through their lives until they die of old age. 👵

I suppose I'll just have to trawl through the weird parts of reddit and quora to see what insurmountable challenges people outside my normal circle face! :lol:
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
I (often) use the people I know and situations that I've been in as a starting point, then multiply the issue to make it more dramatic.

The simplest example is that in real life I met a first cousin who I never knew existed - she's the daughter of my mom's brother who was an alcoholic and truly no one knows how many kids he had. I was absolutely shocked when my mom introduced us very casually, and I found out that the woman lived barely 5 miles from me.

In my movie Surviving Family, the main character meets a half sister who she never knew existed, and it throws her for a major loop. It's based on what happened to me, but ramped up for impact.
 
Well this is exactly my difficulty in adapting ideas from real life: the people I know don't live in sitcoms - their lives (like their dialogue) are pretty undramatic, and the vast majority don't want anything other than to plod on through their lives until they die of old age. 👵

I suppose I'll just have to trawl through the weird parts of reddit and quora to see what insurmountable challenges people outside my normal circle face! :lol:
Even if they don't have big drama - big ideas, big dreams - doen't mean they don't have small routine drama. Every day is a challange and that is how you plot your script
 
It may help to see "real life" stories as a series of triumphs or defeats or turning points. Any one of those can be your ending esp. if you make it dramatic (i.e. put the exact opposite outcome as a strong possibility before the true outcome wins out). Triumphs can be getting the girl/guy, the dream job, the money, the final touchdown etc. Defeats can be getting your just desserts, death etc. Turning points could be a reconciliation, a new skill/opportunity, a new determination or learning a new life lesson (e.g. "it's not all about money") etc.
 

directorik

IndieTalk's Resident Guru
What we see here is why the maxim “write what you know” can be so
destructive to a writer. It is so misunderstood.

It does not mean write a truthful document of day to day life.

As you point out CR, the vast majority of real life is undramatic. People
do not live in sitcoms or romComs or thrillers. They way the speak is
essentially boring. You are right; the vast majority don't want to do anything
other than plod on with no tension or drama. A writer see beyond that. I
know that's what you're asking; how do you see beyond that and invent
dramatic tension.

Some situations don't lend themselves to dramatic tension. The vast majority.
Drop those ideas. Don't try to force dramatic tension into something that
doesn't need it. Look for situation where you can see the potential drama
and conflict.

“What if?” is the writers mantra – not “writer what you know”.

I'll offer an example from my personal life:

My father is a psychologist, very rooted in logic. One day we were talking
about monster movies which he doesn't like because “monsters like that
aren't real. There are plenty of “monsters” in this world without inventing
fake ones.” That got me thinking; “what if” my grounded in reality, psychologist
father saw a “monster” - a movie monster? What would his reaction be?
He KNOWS deep down they do not and cannot exist so his reaction to
seeing one would be interesting, no?

I know a woman who was molested my her uncle and her parents went into
deep denial. That hurt her. “What if” I added that kind of deep denial into a
monster movie?

So I have “what you know” and exploded that into a monster movie with
some rather deep themes.
so my question would be: are there any equivalent techniques that I can use to get inside the problem-worsening head of my characters?
Do not think about WHY. Do not think about WHERE. Think about WHAT IF...
Take what you know and ask what if those people were in a situation that was
terribly uncomfortable for them.
 
I have never, ever, EVER accepted "Write what you know" as a writing motto.

It should be and always be "WRITE WHAT YOU CAN IMAGINE".

Otherwise every story would be autobiographical (and, if it's my life: very boring).
"WRITE WHAT YOU CAN IMAGINE" is another way of saying "What if...?"
 
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indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
I think you missed the post above you.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
"What if"works too! But it doesn't mean you have to abandon "Write what you know!" :)
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
That combo also works the other way around. Take a way out there what if, and make it more realistic by applying what you know.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
Years ago, I wrote & produced a one act play about cats that speak English, one of whom finishes the main (human) character's manuscript for him when he's blocked and up against a deadline. The premise was that all cats CAN speak if they choose to - they simply don't care to. I wrote it as a simple dramatic comedy, rather than something surrounded in fantasy. It's still one of my favorite things that I've written.
 
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