How Do You Find the Endings of Your Plays? (Part One)

November 26, 2014

We asked our authors the question, "How do you find the endings of your plays?"  Below are a few replies, each offering a unique journey.

Donna Spector shares with us:

Usually, when I begin a play, I have an image that comes to me, or some characters, or a bit of a story line, but I never know the ending in advance.  I listen to my characters and follow where they lead me.  Sometimes they surprise me, and in the case of my play Hanging Women, I didn’t want to go where they were leading me, but I had no choice.  They insisted, so I had to relent!

Flip Kobler relates these stories:

Most times I work backwards.  When creating a story I usually know what I want to say.  I know the takeaway for the audience.  The theme.  Once I have that I simply stick my brain in reverse and create conflict and twists that support that ending.

In our play The Argonauts, (written with Cindy Marcus), I wanted Jason to learn that being cool, being popular, being the BMOC doesn't come from outside. He needed to know that what made him all those awesome-y things was simply who he was.  Alright, cool idea.

So in order to learn that, he has to start with a misconception.  He thinks if he gets the Golden Fleece then he'll be all those things.  Great, now I have a starting point.  Jason wants the Golden Fleece.  Yippee.  Now his journey is about facing things that keep him from getting the Fleece, but ALSO about learning just how amazingly spifftastic he is without it.  If a big plot scene didn't do both those things I threw it out.  So again, working in reverse is the key.

However-- sometimes I simply have a cool or fun idea and just start writing to see what'll happen.  Cindy and I have a play called Transylmania in which the children of famous monsters all go to one high school.  I knew I'd throw in some humans that got lost and the fun would begin.  I just didn't know where the fun would end.

So I'm introducing a character on page one.  And he says, "Hello Transylvania High. It is I, Vlad, son of Dracula. 'Sup?" And I write on.  The next time Vlad enters I write, "It is I, Vlad, son of Dracula."  And I think to myself, whoa, why'd I write that?  I already introduced him?  I'm just about to delete that sentence when the thunderbolt strikes.  Why did he say it?   Because he's living in his father's shadow.  Ahhhhhhh.  Now it becomes clear.  What if they're ALL living in their parents shadow?  Viktoria Frankenstein will never be mad-scientist-y enough to fill her father's shoes.  The wolf-girl is the runt of the litter.  The Phantom of the Opera's daughter writes pop hits.  On and on it went.

Now I knew the ending I wanted.  They all step out of their parents' shadow and become great on their own.  But it was only by the act of writing that I discovered this.  I could've outlined, plotted and charted the story from now till doomsday and never found that.

Anywho, that's our process.  Seven out of ten times I start with the end and work backwards.  The other times I jump in and have faith the path will become clear.

Evan Baughfman tells us:

Before I even write a single word, I think, “What do I want to teach with this story?”  Then, I start creating a play around that idea.  Setting, characters, conflict, and resolution take shape after I determine what needs to be taught.  How I teach the lesson or who teaches/learns the lesson often change as I write; but the lesson itself never wavers.  It’s always there at the finish line, steering the focus of the rest of my work.   I know the destination.  The real fun is crafting an intriguing path that twists and turns on its way to that endpoint.

Rebecca Moretti
ends with:

The ending to your story can come to you even before the story has been written.  There’s no specific formula for how to find an ending, but I tend not to think about it too much.  Rather, I let it come to me naturally as I write the story.  With many things I’ve written, after I’ve developed the story to a certain point, the ending just appears naturally, as if it had been there all along, as if it were the only and most perfect ending.

Thank you to Donna, Flip, Evan, and Rebecca for sharing their thoughts about endings, and best wishes to everyone for a joyful, rewarding, and delightful end of 2014.

You can now also read How Do You Find the Endings of Your Play? (Part Two).

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