S2 E16 – Breaking Your Story in Five Easy Steps – Part 5 – How Does it End?
While you don't need to know all the details or plot points of your story, you do have to know something. Namely, you need to know who your character will be by the end of the story, or what kind of change he or she will undergo.
The Hero's Journey is built on the idea that the hero comes back from his journey changed. The "moral of the story" or the takeaway for the audience is wrapped up in the cathartic moment of the character - that key point in the story when they finally grow and change in some significant and permanent way.
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THE STORYTELLER’S MISSION WITH ZENA DELL LOWE
S2: E16. How to Break Your Story in Five Easy Steps – Part 5 – How Does Your Story End?
Published December 16, 2021
INTRO: Hello, and welcome to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe, a podcast for artists and storytellers about changing the world for the better through story.
PRESENTATION: For the last few weeks, we've been in a series entitled, "How To Break Your Story in Five Easy Steps." Most of us as writers find it difficult at times to actually sustain a long form story from the beginning, all the way through the middle, and to the end, in a way that satisfies our audience and makes the story come together as a whole. All too often we can get lost, we can get confused, we don't know where we're going. And it makes it a lot more difficult, then, to finish our work or our project. So, I wanted to give you five steps that are essential steps for any writer to go through before they start the storytelling process. So that they have a guide, they have a map, of sorts, to help them navigate their story and get to the end.
Now, so far, we've gone over steps one through four, and today we're going to address Step five. And what you're going to find is that all of these steps are related, they are all related, they are all connected, all of them work together to help you navigate your story. And if you skip any of the steps, you will get lost. So, by way of briefly reviewing, we have Step one, find your main character. Step two, figure out what that main character wants. Step three, figure out what that main character needs. Step four, figure out what the inciting incident is that launches your character on their journey. And today, we're talking about Step five, which is, how does it end for your character? How does your character change? Where does it take your character?
Now, I'm going to unpack that because it is an essential ingredient in knowing where to go in your story. But first, notice that all of these things have to do with the nature of story in general. That's what we're really zeroing in on here. What is the nature of story itself? And if you're following at home, what you're going to realize is that story is about a character who changes over the course of that story, who starts off in one particular emotional place, and ends up in another. And yes, it has something to do with their flaws. But characters don't always overcome their flaws. So, it's not necessarily just about overcoming the flaw over the course of the story. It's about the character learning something, growing in their perspective, changing, healing. Somehow, they are changed over the course of that telling. And if you don't have a main character who has all of those things that we just talked about, who ends up in a different place, and is changed by the end of the story, you don't have a story.
So that is the most important thing, here, to see in terms of how all of these things are interrelated. They all have to do with your main character changing over the course of the story. And when you understand that, you can work backwards and figure out what the plot points are. Because story is not actually about plot. Story is about the internal change of your character. Which is why the last of these five easy steps is, "How does it end?" How does your story end?
Now, here's the thing. There are a lot of people out there who call themselves "pantsers." I happen to hate that term. I think that it makes it sound like people don't plan and they're just winging it, and they're being lazy. And I prefer to call people that don't plot in detail, "intuitive" writers. They're feeling their way through the story. It's an intuition. It's a connection to the character that allows them to find their way through. And the reason it works, generally, is because these types of people are actually more connected to the inner goings on of the character. And that's why they're intuitively feeling their way through a story. But nevertheless, the point is, anyone who can connect with the emotional state and journey of the character could actually be a wonderful storyteller. Because that is the essence of story.
Now, going back to this issue of plotting versus Pantsers; you don't have to know every single detail. I want to encourage you, if you call yourself a pantser, you might be thinking that, "Oh, you don't need to know the end of the story." You might dismiss this one and you will be wrong to do so. Because I am not talking about plotting out every single detail of the story, I am talking about tapping into the fundamental nature of story itself. Story has certain things that have to happen for it to be a good story. All of the steps here are connected to that fundamental nature. We're talking about a character going through a journey that changes them. So, it therefore follows, we need to have some idea of what that looks like. We need to have some idea of how our character changes over the course of the story.
Now, there are several ways that we could get there. One is if you actually know what your ending is before you start, like, specifically spelled out, this is the actual climax, this is the showdown that happens, the battle sequence that happens at the height of the story, everything's building to this moment. You might already know that before you start. And by the way, sometimes it just depends on the story that we're telling. Sometimes, we get a story idea specifically because we know in our head, even before we've thought it through, we know what that climactic scene is going to look like. We know that that's where we're heading. Sometimes we can't even help but get a clearer picture of that climax. It just happens. That's part of the mystery of writing - we don't know always where these ideas come from.
So, on the one hand, you might know specifically how your story ends before you start. And if you do, that's a good thing. Because while the fine details might change over the course of the story, knowing what happens in the end will help guide your writing. It will mean that you can drop the right narrative clues. You can set up certain things from the very beginning that you're going to pay off at the climax of the piece. And ultimately, that's going to satisfy the audience.
However, you don't actually need to know the climactic scene or the specific ending of your story, though it can help. You do not have to be a "plotter." Clearly, I'm not arguing that you have to know every single detail. But when I say that step five is, "How does it end," you do have to know something about where the story is going. You have to know something about where the character is going to end up. Where is your character going? You need to know something about who your character will be at the end of the story, or how he or she will have changed over the course of the story. You have to know that before you sit down to write because if you don't know where you're going, you won't know how to get there.
Again, the hero's journey is built on the idea that the hero comes back from his journey changed. So you need to have some idea of the ending before you start. For example, you need to know at the very beginning, okay, here's where my character starts. But here's where they have to end up. Here's how they change. And that way, you're able to build that into the arc of the story, which is really what story is about. And remember, it's all related, right? So this is related to the want and the need. The climax of the piece is about both of those things coming together. And however you choose to resolve this tension in your character is ultimately what you're trying to say with the story. You should have an idea of what you're trying to say with the story, specifically because of how you are going to resolve this tension inside of your character.
This is what we call the character's cathartic moment. It's that key event, that key moment in the story, when the character ultimately changes. It's specifically related to the arc in general and when that happens, that is the moral takeaway of the story. That's the point of the story. Everything that you're building in your story is meant to get the character to that moment, and whether you want to or not, you are actually saying something with the story because of what you've shown us in that character's journey. The theme is sort of the moral takeaway. It's what you are trying to say as a writer. And it plays into what you're doing inside the character, how the character ultimately has to change. Because however the character changes is what you're actually trying to communicate to the audience for THEIR personal takeaway. What are they supposed to take away from this story? What are they supposed to learn from your character's catharsis?
So, for example, my short film, Ragdoll, which is based on my true story about a woman who's married to a gay man. And thematically, what I wanted to do was explore what happens to a woman who's married to a gay man? Because we live in a culture where everybody wants to celebrate a man who comes out of the closet. But what happens to the woman in that scenario? And of course, what I'm arguing is that it's destructive to her. Now, here's the thing. I've often said that you don't have to start with theme, because sometimes you discover later what the theme really is. And this is an example of that.
I knew, generally, that what I wanted to show was that a woman that's married to a gay man, it's ultimately destructive to her. What I didn't know until I was writing it is that the woman is complicit in her own destruction, because of the lies that she's believed about love and about God and about what it means to be a wife. And usually, that means she has to have some sufficient damage. Somewhere in her past, she's had to believe some lies, or been taught some lies, perhaps in her family of origin, to come to the conclusion that she should stay in that scenario, because she has damage from her past that has not been dealt with. So all of those things came out. So again, I didn't know the details, the fine details even about the theme, but I knew enough to know where I was going. I knew enough to know that she was going to end up in a different emotional place. I knew that she was going to start eager, happy, wanting to please, giving all of her femininity to this man. And by the end, I knew that she would be wrecked. I didn't know those thematic elements that I mentioned. That was discovered in the writing. But had I not known where I was going, I never would have been able to discover those things.
So you may not know everything, but you need to know something about where the story is going. And more importantly, you need to know where the character ends up. See, even if I have a climactic scene, where the hero has to face off with the bad guy, it's going to be a very empty climax, a very empty showdown, If I don't understand how, by that time in the story, the character is different, how they have changed. Because ultimately, the whole climax has to be built around that catharsis. That is the essence of story, which is why you need to know, how does it end? How does it end for your character?
So the point of all of this is that there are just a few things that you need to know, a few steps that you need to go through, before you sit down to write, that are going to help you get to the end of your story in a satisfying way. And all of it is based on the journey of your character, because that is the essence of story. And step five specifically relates to how the character ends up in the situation they end up in plot wise, but also emotionally, so that they can transform and change, so that whatever their ailment has been, so whatever their wound is, or their weakness or their flaws or whatever those things are that have held them back, can finally be addressed and let go of or overcome or set aside or accepted or whatever the case may be. But they have to change; they have to change. And you as a writer need to know who the main character is, what they want, what they need, what launches them on their story, and then ultimately, how they change before you start writing that story.
CALL TO ACTION: I hope that this has been helpful to you. If you have a project in mind that you want to start writing in 2022 I would love to be of service. Now is a really good time to either get a manuscript or screenplay critique, or to sign up for some coaching services, so that you can have somebody help you make sure that your main character is navigating the story exactly as they should, in the best way possible that's going to satisfy your audience, and that is true to the essential nature of story itself. That's my wheelhouse, and I would love to be of service. Simply check out the website, www.thestorytellersmission.com, and it would be an honor to help you navigate your story.
OUTRO: In the meantime, thank you for listening to The Storyteller's Mission with Zena Dell Lowe. May you go forth inspired to change the world for the better through story.