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Episode 5: All About Endings

Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Paul Kix:  Hello and welcome to the after show for Now That's a Great story. I hope you enjoyed episode five on Monday. I just love talking with Chris Jones about his work. Today we're going to discuss one facet of something that Chris and I talked a fair amount about, and that is endings: the way that you and your stories. Chris writes his ending first and then uses that as he says the home destination as the way to say, how can I get from where I am right now to get home to where I need to be? That’s the only thing he knows the only thing he knows and he finds a way to write to it.


Chris was actually the guy that that made me spend even more time thinking about my endings and Chris was in some sense the inspiration for me to search out other people who think a lot about endings, too. So are few approaches to endings and one of them is it should be surprising and at the same time inevitable. And there are a lot of magazine pieces that do this. There are also some sort of truth I think that exists across all platforms whether it's books, whether it's movies, whether it's pieces of journalism, and that is the the circular ending for lack of a better phrase. And that I first sort of learned about started paying a lot of attention to after I listened to the Scriptnotes podcast. Scriptnotes is put out by John August and Craig Mazin, a couple of long time and quite successful Hollywood screenwriters.


John August is known among other things for Big Fish, he just he just played a role in Aladdin. Craig Mazin is known for among other things Chernobyl on HBO, which I absolutely loved and before that he was involved with The Hangover. And what the script those guys talk about is how endings and at the same point where beginnings begin. Which is another way to say that a story is circular. And the only difference between the beginning and the end is that at the end, our hero who goes on that hero's journey and they talked a lot about that. It's Joseph Campbell's famous hero's journey line and if you're in if you're not familiar with Joseph Campbell ,you know you should read The Man With A Thousand Faces. There's also a book called The Writer's Journey which I've read it's mostly meant for screenwriters but it chronicles the same path and it's basically, there's a Hero who goes on a journey and that is the premise of sort of all storytelling. I don't want to go to wet well on the hero's journey here but what I do want to focus on is what happens at the end of the hero's journey which is the hero comes back home.


The story is circular the story ends where it begins, and the biggest difference between the beginning and the ending is that the hero is changed at the end in some way. The hero appreciates his life and some newfound manor and audience with it sort of appreciates this journey that they've been on over the course of the story. And because the story ends where it begins, there is a really satisfying feeling that the audience has with the story. And I'm going to see if in the show notes for this episode I can find the actual Scriptnotes podcast that August and Mazin and spent a lot of time on discussing this. That episode got me thinking a lot about endings because I think sort of like what Chris was saying about an ending being surprising and yet inevitable, it's sort of the same thing as what happens when you imagine a story being a circle and the ending ending where the story began.


There is a third thing to imagine, there's a third theory that I've turned to over the years, and this is also from another screenwriter from Michael arndt and Michael is known for the Juno script. Michael wrote The Toy Story 3 script and Toy Story 3 might be just the best movie of all time in my mind. And he put together -- because he gets a question so often -- he put together an hour and a half sort of video essay documenting endings. It's amazing and he looks at three different movies and he examines why those movies worked and in particular why the endings were so good. Because in his mind the way that you end the story is the way that the audience will remember the story. You can have a great script, if you're a screenwriter, or a great novel or you know -- again across any platform that you're working in -- you can be telling a great story but if you don't nail that ending, the reader, the audience, whatever they're going to think less of what you did so Arndt, he puts together this movie and I'll link to it in the show notes because it's really worth watching if you if you really want to geek out on this. But the big takeaway is there need to be actually three different storylines resolving themselves at the same time or around the same time for a story to be really successful. And there needs to be some sort of it external conflict, and that external conflict is what your character is navigating in time and space, like out in the real world, you know. That's plot if you're in fiction. That's just you know reported out scene of what the character is seeing, if you're working and nonfiction. And there needs to be some sort of resolution to that external conflict for a story to work. That's thread number one for a story to work really well.


There are two more. Thread number two is that there needs to be some sort of internal resolution and in Arndt’s view the internal resolution is all about what your hero is thinking and feeling how your hero has changed internally. To be clear though Arndt produced this for movies but I think it's applicable across, again, a lot of different mediums. 


And the third is this sort of philosophical resolution, and this is perhaps the most important one this. And this is the one that Chris Jones traffics in. The philosophical resolution is all about the question that your story raises at the beginning of the story and how is that question answered at the end of the story in such a way that it imbues the story with some sort of theme or universal truth. And if all three of those resolutions can happen in quick succession, what you've actually got is some sort of mega hit on your hands. And in Arndt’s view, he goes through and chronicles likewise exactly why Star Wars worked. It;s really fun to watch if you are a sort of nerdy fan of stories and storytelling. It's really really helpful. I think that I watched -- I was certainly familiar with Chris's stuff and Chris has ideas about endings when I was writing my own book.


And let me just tell you a funny story about my own book Robert de la Rochefoucauld is one of the most amazing commandos of the World War II era and literally a James Bond character you know Ian Fleming based 007 on the sort of work that Commandos like Robert de la Rochefoucauld was was doing during World War II. So I knew I had that and I also knew that I had descending that I wanted to get to. And the ending had nothing to do with the war. The ending had everything to more than 50 years later when Robert was at last honored by the French government and knighted into the into the Legion of Honor, and then moving even beyond that to this deep sense of guilt that Robert felt. And I wanted to find a way to get to that guilt without bogging down the story. So in other words I didn't want to have to create basically part two of the book tht was all about everything he did after the war. And I took a couple stabbed at it and there was this epilogue that I wrote that my editor was, like, it just goes on way too long because even though I said I didn't want to write basically part 2 I'd written something like 35 more pages of a book, and it was all about everything he done after the war.


So I went back and I thought some more about art how can I end this? And I decided on an ending that was actually a double ending. And so Robert had lived his whole life by this code. And this code was as a member of the Rochefoucauld family you will not cry, you will not show your emotion, because that is not what we as members of the aristocracy do. The de la Rochefoucaulds are one of the most storied families in France -- remain today one of those storied families in France -- and to convey emotion, to convey how you really feel is a terrible, terrible sin. And yet I also knew that I had this moment at the end that was so opposite of being restrained, that was so honest. And I knew that if I could find a way to get to that moment where Robert on his deathbed recounts to his to his daughter that he was not the hero that she had thought he was because he had killed people. And that all is life he carried around this deep guilt for what he have done during the war. 


This is the first it that his daughter Constance was hearing about any of this and what I realize I had was actually this moment where Robert had transformed internally and this moment we're Robert had changed his philosophical approach and the reader would be learning about it for the first time. So it was it was as if I could honor what Michael Arndt was saying. So I knew I had this external resolution because Robert had won the day, and he had been honored by the French government and now I knew I had this internal resolution as well because Robert had changed. He has shown himself in this in the last moments of his life to be open and vulnerable to reveal to his family --or at least his daughter--how we truly felt.


He was back where he started, he was in his home. And finally there was this philosophical transformation because by revealing that he was vulnerable he had actually transcended the old mores that had bound him, the old codes that it said he had to operate a certain way. He transcended them and he had found a new way to live which was a way that we should all live, which was to say he was liberated. And so that's actually the closing idea and then the closing line is almost a double-ended which is that Robert de la Rochefoucauld died on May 8th, which is VE Day. 


And it was really only because I spent so much time in the previous couple of years thinking about endings that I was able to piece together what might actually work for my book, and in that respect I have Chris Jones to thank.


The music for now that's a great story comes from Jeff Willet. Some production help comes from him as well. If you like this episode or any other episode of the podcast don't forget to rate and review it leave a message where everything's at you listen to podcast. I'll be back Monday with another episode until then have a good one.

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