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Four Endings

Banes at 12:00AM, Dec. 29, 2022

As we approach the end of another year, I had a few ideas about topics related to endings.

If you've read my articles for awhile, you may remember discussions about wants and needs - the plot objective that is more ‘physical’ is the want, and the emotional or thematic pursuit is the need. A character figures out what they want fairly early, usually - but they may not know what they need until later in the story.

The need often is connected to some kind of character growth, overcoming a flaw, lack, or wound that the character is suffering from.

So, when the plot goal…and thematic need…are achieved or not achieved, a story is pretty much over!

When the killer is unmasked and defeated in Scream, and Sidney overcomes her denial about her Mother's behavior (and the pain of her death as well), both Want and Need are achieved. This is the way most big movies end.

Anyway, let's talk about the four possible endings when we view ending structure through this lens!

If the Want is achieved and the Need is fulfilled, we have the Happy Ending! Most common ending is popular media.

If the Want is achieved and the Need is NOT fulfilled, we have what I would call a Hollow Victory…so the
more physical objective happens, but the character has not done their character work, so will run into more problems down the road. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is this I think.

If the Want and Need are BOTH unachieved, the multiple-front failure, that's a downer ending. The writer probably considers this deep. I don't think I agree but that's for another Newspost.

Finally, if the Want is not achieved but the Need is achieved, we have what we might call the Bittersweet Ending. Maybe the want turns out to be not that important once the Protagonist grows up, which is a more happy variant. Or maybe we are left to believe that even though the Hero failed, they will win other victories in life. The first Rocky would fall into this category.

In any case - have you done one, or some, or all of these endings in your stories? Do you recognize them?

And as far as this year's ending goes, I hope it finds you all full of good cheer and your wants and needs looking at least optimistic!

Happy New Year,

Talk again soon,


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DylanTale Comics at 2:30PM, Dec. 29, 2022

Well said, Ironscarf. I can see why you enjoy the bittersweet type of ending. With my own comic series, I've been giving a ton of thought about how Set 4 will end lately, because that'll actually be the complete ending of that comic series (not to worry, I do have a few other projects that I'll also post before/after that point). I've been thinking about how I want to set it up, who/what will be involved, etc. This post is a good addition to what I'll consider for when I do work on Set 4. I'm also going to look at certain media for inspiration, such as the two examples I previously gave, along with others. It'll definitely be exciting and sad for me, akin to that bittersweet feeling.

Ironscarf at 2:13PM, Dec. 29, 2022

The bittersweet ending is the one I'm currently enjoying most, because it gives the protagonist the greatest potential for growth I think, eeven if it means sacrificing themselves for the greater good. On the other hand if they live to tell the tale having learned the greatest lesson - what really matters - it could be the sweetest ending of all. Happy New Year and as our resolutions fade one by one into dust, may we find the resolve we truly need.

DylanTale Comics at 2:02PM, Dec. 29, 2022

This makes me wonder about what Marcorossi mentioned about the type of ending where the protagonist achieves a massive victory for everyone else, but him. Which of the four categories of endings would that fall under? I've seen this type of dramatic ending in a couple of different movies and tv shows from the third How To Train Your Dragon to Star Wars Rebels. It's honestly my favorite, especially when the protagonist knows what he has to do and sets up the groundwork for an epic finale, but no one expects it. In Star Wars Rebels, the main character goes from this "only look out for myself" survivor to absolute legend who pulls a massive victory for his home planet. His ending is actually a neutral one where he wins, but in order to make sure of it, he takes the antagonist far away into an unreachable location and no one knows if he's even still alive. I thought that Dave Filoni was an absolute genius for ending it that way. It was satisfying, but it also left some questions. Genius!

marcorossi at 12:46PM, Dec. 29, 2022

In my opinion, if we divide the plot in the "external" part (wants, events, stuff) and the "internal" part (needs, personal growth), the internal part is the actual lead and the external part just follows (the hero gets material success because of spiritual growth, not the other way along). So I believe that "dramatic" endings are when the hero gets the internal rowth, but misses the external reward (e.g. Edipus understands what he did wrong, but is punished for this, or the hero has to sacrifice his/her life for the advantage of others). In this sense even "bad" endongs aren't really bad.

Banes at 9:30AM, Dec. 29, 2022

@PaulEberhardt - thanks Paul! I agree that the "downer ending" could be either deep or shallow. In fact, maybe it could be called a 'literary ending'. In a world of more series and franchise writing, all endings could play out over the course of multiple episodes. I'd say the first Back to the Future has its own ending; it never needed a sequel. Ditto the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. The second film in both those series are clearly cliffhanger/unresolved endings (and both filmed back to back with their third chapters).

PaulEberhardt at 9:23AM, Dec. 29, 2022

I recognise them, and this want/need approach works really, really well for a categorisation of endings. Neither want nor need fulfilled may often be a deep or shallow downer ending, but it could also be a cliffhanger ending, essentially saying that the fulfilment is postponed to the sequel. Similarly, the fulfilment of either the want or need or both in the end could lead to a shift to a new want/need constellation. Back to the Future may be an example, in fact about every ending that foreshadows a sequel. I don't know if they count as endings, though, if the sequel actually gets made.

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