A movie director yells "cut" while sitting in a director's chair on a studio backlot, holding a clapperboard.

How to End a Screenplay: Master the Art of Writing Amazing Screenplay Endings

Writing the ending for a screenplay can be one of the most challenging parts of the creative process. While the conclusion needs to wrap up story arcs and provide resolution, it should also leave a powerful final impression that resonates with viewers.

The ending is the last chance to deliver meaning, fulfill your vision, and create the feeling you want the audience to leave with.

An impactful closing scene elevates the entire screenplay. On the other hand, a lackluster ending can diminish all the build-up of the preceding acts.

When drafting your screenplay’s final act, keep these essential tips in mind to deliver the satisfying, memorable finale your story deserves.

Wrap Up Your Story Arc and Resolve the Main Conflict

First and foremost, the ending of your script must provide closure for the overarching conflict and main narrative arc. Throughout the screenplay, you have developed an engaging premise around your protagonist pursuing a desire or overcoming opposition. Now is the time to resolve this struggle.

Your main character should confront or complete their story goal in a meaningful way. If it is an external conflict with an antagonist, this often involves a climactic showdown of some kind.

For internal character journeys, the resolution may be realizing some deeper truth that transforms their beliefs or motivations.

Make sure you tie up any significant loose ends related to supporting characters as well. Subplots or secondary storylines also require some sense of resolution within the broader conclusion.

Though they may be more open-ended than the protagonist’s journey, you want to provide the audience with closure.

Overall, the ending should fulfill the narrative promise that has propelled the story forward. Don’t leave major conflicts unaddressed. The climax should provide an emotionally gratifying sense of completion for the arcs you have built.

Determine the Right Closing Tone

The tone and mood you create for the ending scene directly impact how viewers will feel when leaving your story world. As the writer, you get to decide what kind of final impression you want to leave.

Do you want a happy, feel-good resolution or a heartbreaking tragedy? An ambiguous, philosophical conclusion or definitive closure? Know the tone you are aiming for, and shape your ending to achieve it.

Upbeat, positive endings that leave audiences feeling good work great for family films, rom-coms, inspirational dramas, and other uplifting stories.

Tragic endings that build empathy and emotional release are suitable for hard-hitting dramas, especially where the journey is ultimately about sacrifice or loss.

Ambiguous, open-ended conclusions can be thought-provoking and memorable if executed well. They hint at a resolution but leave some questions unanswered.

Use this technique to linger on big ideas or let audiences imagine what happens next. However, take care that important emotional arcs still feel fulfilled.

In any case, the tone should align with your overall story premise, character journeys, and thematic goals. Stay true to your vision as a writer. Don’t force an unearned happy ending or one that rings false.

Craft an Impactful, Visually Compelling Final Scene

Your ending scene itself should be carefully conceived to provide a memorable exclamation point in the story. Brainstorm a strong visual location or set piece that elevates the drama and impact of the resolution.

Use your imagination to picture how the characters, setting, dialogue, and actions can combine for a powerful final scene. This is your last chance to create a truly cinematic story moment for the audience.

Some classic elements that work beautifully for impactful endings include:

  • Dramatic confrontations like chases, battles, or standoffs between protagonist and antagonist.
  • Emotional, intimate exchanges between central characters finally express truths.
  • Triumphant victories and celebrations after long struggles.
  • Somber, poignant goodbyes or mourning after sacrifice and loss.
  • Moments of realization when a deeper truth finally connects all the threads.
  • Cliffhangers or unresolved twists setting up sequels.

While spectacle and high stakes help stick the landing, the most effective resolutions always come back to the characters.

Show your protagonist completing an emotional transformation or gaining a new understanding. The climax should resonate as the culmination of their inner journey.

Add a Powerful Closing Moment

To truly deliver that final punch, include a significant closing shot or moment to end on a high note. This image, action, or exchange provides the denouement for your story and will be the last impression left with viewers.

A poignant closing moment could involve a symbolic object, a knowing glance between characters, a mirroring of an earlier scene, or a stirring natural landscape. The visuals should feel meaningful and full of subtext.

Some examples of memorable closing moments:

  • Casablanca’s famous ending plane shot with the foggy runway.
  • The child’s face full of hope at the end of The Shawshank Redemption.
  • The spinning top in Inception cutting to black with a unresolved twist.
  • The sled being burned at the end of Citizen Kane, signifies the end of an era.
  • The final musical number and choreographed dance in La La Land.

This resonant button at the very end reinforces your story themes, creates continuity, and amplifies the emotion of the resolution. Choose a compelling final shot or exchange and end on this impactful story beat.

Execute Your Ending Flawlessly

Writing a great ending for your script is no easy feat. It takes forethought, care, and often many drafts to really nail the landing. Avoid cliches and aim higher to give your screenplay an unforgettable resolution.

Keep these essential tips in mind during your ending process:

  • Resolve your protagonist’s main conflict and inner journey arc. Bring all narrative threads to a gratifying close.
  • Shape an ending with the right tone to elicit your desired audience response. Make sure it fits your overall story vision.
  • Craft a visual, cinematic climax scene that provides a fulfilling narrative payoff. Make it powerful and resonant.
  • Close with a symbolic, poignant final moment or image that echoes the themes of your story.

With a thoughtful ending that ties everything together, your screenplay will leave audiences moved, satisfied, and thinking about your story long after it ends. The conclusion is your final creative act – make it transcendent.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you say at the end of a screenplay?

  • The end of a screenplay generally includes the words FADE OUT. or THE END superimposed over the final image to signify the conclusion.

How do you write a good ending for a screenplay?

  • A good ending resolves the main conflict, ties up loose ends, delivers emotional impact, fits the overall tone, and includes a poignant final moment or image that resonates.

How do you finish writing a script?

  • To finish writing a script, make sure all story arcs are resolved, proofread for errors, format it correctly, add scene numbers, include revision date/info, and write FADE OUT.

What is the 3 line rule in screenwriting?

  • The 3 line rule says that each paragraph of action lines in a screenplay should be 3 lines or less. This keeps descriptions brief and impactful.

What do you say at the end of a film?

  • At the end of a film, the final lines of dialogue should have significance, encapsulate a theme, or create an impactful moment leading into the closing scene.

What is a good ending for a short film?

  • Good short film endings include a twist, cliffhanger, moment of realization, character change, plot resolution, symbolic visual, or final line that sticks with viewers.

How do you write a catchy ending?

  • To write a catchy ending, use a twist, punchy dialogue, visual symbolism, a profound realization, or a concise wrapping up of your story’s meaning.

What is the #1 rule when writing a screenplay?

  • The #1 rule is to always keep your audience engaged. Every scene and line should move the story forward and be dramatic, emotional, or humorous.

How do you write an ending scene?

  • Brainstorm visual settings, props, character blocking, and dialogue to build an impactful ending scene. Structure it with a final challenge, emotional arcs closing, and a conclusive resolution.

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