script writing

Great Techniques to Write a Script with an Unexpected Ending

Don’t you just love epic film endings that you never saw coming? These endings are the ones that stay with viewers for a long time and inspire talk about the movie and the reasons why the screenwriter decided to give the story such a mind-blowing plot twist.

Building an unexpected ending in movie scripts is difficult, but can give a movie a lot of buzz and leave the audience breathless. It can be a fine line between a well-earned shocker of an ending and a contrived, seemingly desperate, last minute attempt to save a bad movie.

What’s the secret to making a successful twist ending? There may not be one magic bullet, but a pretty good understanding of some script writing techniques can help you make a memorable ending stick with your audience:

  1. Misdirect the Viewers

Misdirection is a widely popular technique among screenwriters. The main purpose is to make viewers think that they have everything figured out before subverting their expectations entirely at some point, usually in the film’s climax. What could be better than gradually guiding viewers’ attention away from the real plot resolution and reveal it only at the end, right?

Achieving an effective misdirection requires you to use some tools, including the following.

  • Sleight-of-hand. Gradually bury clues to the real ending in preceding scenes where the viewers will be focused on something else. For example, many screenwriters do it during fast-paced moments such as fight scenes because the attention of viewers is focused on the action.
  • Red herrings. This technique steers viewers in the wrong direction by planning false pieces of information and cues pointing in the wrong direction.
  • Dead ends. Similarly, these wrong directions could lead nowhere and stop short, throwing the audience off balance — in a good way.

Always keep in mind that you need to be as subtle as possible, so the viewers won’t notice you’re trying to steer them in the wrong direction, or so your writing doesn’t come off as heavy-handed. This isn’t easy — you’ll need a lot of time, energy, and focus, so schedule screenwriting appropriately so it fits into your daily routine.

 

Screenplay

  1. Make Your Twist Emotional

An effective way to generate a good twist at the end of the movie script is to look at it from an entirely new point of view – whether the ending would be uplifting or a downer.

If your story has been more or less optimistic throughout the first 2+ acts, a downbeat ending can really gutpunch the audience. Conversely, if your script was mostly gloomy and bleak tale that finally offers its characters some hope or a happy ending, the audience can be overwhelmed with sudden relief and make their experience that much sweeter. Either way, you’re putting your audience through an emotional roller coaster.

  1. Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

This is a simple but effective technique that could make a huge difference for your ending. Imagine that you’re a stranger reading your script cold. How would you react to the narrative? Is there a direction that you found yourself expecting the story to go? What other endings could you foresee for the plot and characters?

Write down and make note of every potential ending you come up with, and then discard them all when writing your ending. The result would be an ending that one would never see coming before it’s revealed!

  1. Use the “No One is Safe” Technique

Clearly, not all movies have happy endings. Not every character will achieve their goals or, depending on the story, may not even survive. Why not take the opposite route and subvert the viewers’ expectations by adopting the ‘no one is safe’ mentality?

By killing off characters or having the plot take unexpected turns earlier in the screenplay, your audience will know not to take anything they’ve come to expect from typical Hollywood movies for granted. With everything unpredictable, they’ll just have to follow along for the ride, and wherever they end up could be a total surprise.

These are just some of the ways to build your story to an unexpected twist ending. But, depending on the genre, your plot should usually come naturally from what your characters would do. Betray that, or any of the other core elements of a screenplay, and everything you’ve built could collapse. But if you navigate successfully between the lines and use the tips above, you could come up with a twist that movie audiences will be buzzing about for a long time after the lights in the theater come up!

Interested in learning how to craft a screenplay? Check out more information on New York Film Academy’s screenwriting school here.

Lucy Benton is a writing coach, an editor who finds her passion in expressing her own thoughts as a blogger. Currently, she works at A-Writer. She is constantly looking for the ways to improve her skills and expertise. Also, Lucy has her own writing blog Prowritingpartner where you can check her last publications. 

How To Master The Structure Of Script Writing

Although writing a short story, play, or novel is not easy, turning a story into a script ready to be filmed is exacting and demands attention to detail. For example, a script has to take into account the visual nature of film and cannot rely on the imagination of the audience. It also has to take into account stage directions and timing, something that a novelist can overlook. Thus, it is helpful for budding screenwriters to have an overview of the script writing process.

Decide If You Want To Adapt A Story Or Write An Original Story

Although screenwriters are responsible for turning a story into a script, they are not necessarily responsible for writing the story. A screenwriter might adapt a story written by someone else or use history and literature to adapt a story. Many of Shakespeare’s plays were based on Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. On the other hand, screenwriters may want to create a script from scratch and not a pre-existing story.

Decide On The Structure Of A Screenplay

There are several ways to structure a screenplay. The classic structure is to divide a screenplay into three acts: the set-up, conflict, and resolution. Countless stories adhere to this format, and there’s a reason why it has been the go-to structure for films pretty much since cinematography began.

Another format is to divide the screenplay into connected sequences, treating each sequence as a self-contained story that leads into another story.

Be Aware Of Different Script Styles

For example, a film script will not have the same format as a television script. Each script has to be tailored to its medium. A television screenplay needs to be aware of commercial breaks and thus prepare the audience to return after the break. A film screenplay has the luxury of longer, uninterrupted scenes.

Use Proper Format

A script is not only a story; it is a technical document and has to meet certain formatting requirements. For instance, scripts must be printed in 12 pt. Courier. Other basic formatting requirements include the following:

  • A scene is prefaced with a heading that indicates whether the scene is internal or external, where the scene takes place, and the time of day – in that order. For example: EXT. HOT DESERT – DAY.
  • A character’s name is first introduced in all-capitals: WILLY WONKA welcomed the guests to his factory.
  • Dialogue is centered and begins with the character’s name in capitals. Descriptions of the character are put between parentheses on a line just under the character’s name. Dialogue, without quote marks, comes next:

WILLY WONKA
(sarcastically)
So nice to see your smiling faces.

  • Fortunately, scriptwriting software makes this process less tedious. One good open source program that conforms to industry standards is Celtx, which includes a sample of the script for The Wizard of Oz. It also includes templates for theater plays, comic books, novels, and story boards. A popular commercial screenwriting program is Final Draft, which also conforms to industry standards and is widely used by professionals. It is noted for having numerous script templates.
  • In general, a screenplay will be on plain white paper, single-sided, and contain no colored fonts or images. Remember that someone has to at least look at your screenplay, and it may be dismissed if it does not conform to basic formatting requirements.

Prepare Your Script For Submission

There are several tasks to complete when the script is finished and ready for submission.

  • Register your script. The Writer’s Guild of America and the U.S. Copyright office both offer registration for scripts.
  • Write a cover letter. This includes your contact information, but it also contains a logline, a one- or two-sentence description of the story. Also include a 1-7 page synopsis of the story.
  • Submit the script. It’s not easy to get someone to read a script, but try the following. First, find an agent. Producers rarely read unsolicited scripts, so you may need an agent to get a script in front of a producer. Second, enter screenwriting contests and competitions. Doing so is a good way to get someone to read your script, and it can lead to a break. Finally, cultivate a network of contacts. Social media makes this a little easier, but there is no substitute for legwork and making phone calls.

There is no guarantee of success, but making sure that you know the basics will prevent your script from being dismissed out of hand. With a little bit of practice, you’ll find it comes as second nature so there’s never been a better time to get started than now.