How to Find the Best Ending for Your Story
A lot of storytellers will tell you that the hardest part about writing is getting started, but for me that has always been the easiest part. Maybe that's because my whole youth involved me starting a bunch of stories I never finished, leading to my subsequent problem of never being able to figure out how to end my stories because all I had ever practiced was beginning. A lot of times I would leave my story endings in limbo, cutting the story off early because I couldn't figure out where to go or tying way too many loose ends together because I figured the reader wanted to know how every single detail worked out.
To do this day, I still have trouble with ending my stories. The beginning is what gets the reader or viewer or player into the story, but it's the end that stays longest in their minds. Given that notion, I think there is a lot of pressure on the ending of a story. If I am writing a piece where I am trying to convey some sort of message, I especially find this true. The ending is where I tell the consumer of my story what I was trying to say this whole time, what my story was about, what my themes were getting at. But that still doesn't make ending the story any easier because there are so many ways the story could go and still convey the same general message.
That's where video games come in.
While I've already talked about how to write your very own video game quest, what about how to use those same techniques for another medium, like prose or playwriting? At first it may not seem intuitive to mix such completely different forms together, but there is actually no better form to help you find your story's best ending than that of video game writing.
The format is conducive to thinking about all the different outcomes to a story and writing each one out, treating it with as much care and thought as every other ending for the same exact story. And while you may not be used to writing out each and every idea to completion, you're certainly used to brainstorming, aren't you?
So with that in mind, the most important thing for you to do is get your mind thinking like a video gamer.
If you've never played a video game, that's okay. The medium is still new and growing and will one day be on par with literature and film and whatnot. However, the most important element to pay attention to is that of choice. Players will play a video game feeling like they are the narrator as much as the writer does, and that is really quite awesome. They feel loyal to their decisions, calling it "their story" and taking ownership.
Later, they'll talk with friends or just speculate to themselves, wondering what would have happened if they had made this decision or that decision instead. This is unlike any other medium, something I go into detail about when I discuss why video games can help your storytelling.
You never hear people leave a movie theater or finish a book and talk about it this way. They may have critiques and things "they would have done," but they do not take ownership of the story in the same way.
You might still be thinking, "But I've never played a video game." Yet the reason I bring attention to video game writing in general is because if you are a storyteller, you are already doing this with your work. You are taking ownership and treating each aspect of the story like a choice. However, sometimes as writers we tend to follow our own stories instead of treating them as a series of choices, resulting in writer's block later when we've lost sight of what to follow. So in order to overcome that block often found at the end of your story, you're going to things one step further and think like a video gamer by wondering:
"What would happen if I had done this instead?"
This makes you treat your story as a series of choices, helping you take back the ownership and reconsider new possibilities. You should do this with every single choice - at least for your story's ending in this exercise. Of course, feel free to do this with other elements of your story as questioning everything about your choices is essential to be a writer.
And once you've started thinking like a video gamer, it's time to write out these new possibilities. I know, it seems like a lot of work just to find your story's best ending, but because the video game writing format requires little flourish, it's actually quite easy!
But how do you combine this medium with others?
After all, you don't want to rewrite your entire story as a video game just for the sake of finding the best ending! That's tedious! Instead, you'll combine the best elements of both mediums to help you visualize your story in the most seamless way possible.
To begin, you'll write out all the possibilities to your story's ending just like we learned in writing your first quest, like so:
This example is something I just made up for this post, however I used a very classic choice for someone who finds a magical universe. I told myself I wanted three ideas for the example, and had I been writing this out for my own story, I might have just chosen option number one, where she goes back to reality if I had not forced myself to think through a few more options. In fact, both options one and two are like that, but because I forced myself to think of three ideas, I came up with this third idea for my story's ending and ended up loving this idea most of all, especially because it paves the way for a sequel.
But let's say you still love all three ideas (if that's the case, maybe your story should be a video game). Writing out the choices and results might help you visualize everything, but you'll want to take things a step further and write them out in full as best you can for your medium.
We'll begin with screenwriting since the forms look so similar. Using the formats I've detailed in my guide to writing your first quest, you'll treat your screenplay exactly like a video game, writing out dialogue choices in a table format to and tracking how each choice determines later outcomes. You may find just by writing your script ending out like a video game that even more choices emerge than you had initially written out in your table of choices listed above.
Of course, the reason to write it out like a video game script is because that will actually save you some time because it will just cut to the dialogue that is changing things and not all the small details like actions and locations. Then once you're done, highlight your favorite parts and plug them into you real script and see how it goes! However, if you're so inclined you can choose to just write out each potential ending in full, but that is the more time consuming option and will pressure you to hit beats and page numbers more than just feeling out the ending in a video game script might. The choice is yours, and you'll find that the more you practice speculation about different endings, the less you'll need to write it all out like a video game.
A similar medium to screenwriting in that involves a lot of dialogue, you can choose to incorporate video game writing into your play the same way you would with a script. You'd write out different dialogue choices and track how that changes the scene.
You may find it changes locations or people all together just like it would for screenwriting or video game writing, but because the medium does not involve a lot of description or lengthy paragraphs, inserting the video game format into the end of your play will likely not stick out as strange or out of place like it would in prose.
Alternatively, like with screenwriting, since the medium is much faster to get on paper, you could write out each scene separately, though I encourage the dialogue tree method just because it makes it easier to compare the way each line and choice feels.
Perhaps the most different to video game writing is prose. Obviously since there is so much more description and detail to prose, you cannot simply just plug in the video game format in a way that feels natural, at least not with dialogue.
But what you can do is write out a few different sentences that propel you into your ending on three separate sheets of paper, and see where they take you.
First, you'll find the point in your story where things start to end, and then cut out anything you've written after that. Look at your different ending options, and then write out a beginning sentence for each one and just follow the mini outline of an ending you've written already. You may find that some endings just feel more natural and "right" than others, and from there you can find tune them!
Overall, no matter what medium you choose, it's important to write it out as best you can so that you are able to visualize all the possibilities side by side with ease. Video game writing is a format made for this visualization, but if you find the formatting to be too tricky, I encourage you to just take the practice of treating all possibilities for your endings equally and not solely as ideas. After all, ideas are cheap! It's the execution that counts, and when you execute all your different endings you can clearly see which is working and which is not!
Intrigued by video gaming now? Be sure to read my post on why video games can help your storytelling! It includes a guide to all the various types of video games as well as starting points for new gamers!