As the opening credits finish transitioning into the overlap of flashed images you are greeted with the screen focused on a man lying still who also happens to be the narrator. For the sake of this imaginative story and for your mental listening pleasure lets pretend the narrator is Sam Elliot (Trust me you’ll thank me later), how do you know that the man lying there is the narrator? Well, its Sam F’n Elliot, the voice matches the man, but let’s pretend you have no clue who I am talking about… , he told you he was and it went something like “would you look at me, lying there, all dead like and whatnot…” followed by an “I wasn’t always so, dead…” line. Maybe it’s at this moment or perhaps its the elusive and subtle harmony of Jim Morrison’s voice echoing out “This is the End, beautiful friend, this is the end” that awakens you to the fact that, well shit its one of those start with the end type artsy stories ala Quentin Tarantino.
Call it the need for instant gratification, the fact that we have been programmed to expect a payoff, or the fact that no matter how many times we hear” its not the destination, its the journey” we like to know where the hell we are heading. Even as bad as men can be with asking for directions or using a map we still tend to have a general sense of direction that gives us the bold courage to set out on a long quest to only get lost in a deserted town. Why is it always a seemingly deserted town, are deserted towns really that common a thing if so I have so many questions about our infostructure and population density and… I digress, We like to know where we are going so we have a general idea of how we are going to get there. Now, most story structures start at the beginning where logic would entail that the statement “once upon a time” would be any time you finish the word time and certainly before uttering “the end” but so many times people who are telling stories find the end along the way rather than telling the story of the journey to get to the end.
You see the end will always be Sam Elliot dying (Please don’t beat me up, cowboy) but without the context, we don’t know if he died of old age, had too much tequila and called the wrong mans wife pretty, or he choked on an M&M. The structure of your story should revolve around the fact that the end is the payoff, the big reveal, the twist that no one saw coming. You must get your audience interested and invested in the story so much so that they get lost in the journey and rescind their demand for a destination. The end should answer the investigative probes like who, what when where, why, and how but it can also be left open for some interpretation provided that you have presented enough information to guide the audience down a select number of paths.
The open-ended ending should only really be used when there is no definitive ending, for example, we know that Sam Elliot is dead because we see him laying there and the contextual clues throughout the journey should support that narrative. Prior to the moment where the story catches up to the end, we are met with some blurred lines. Let’s say, Sam Elliot has narrowly escaped death, recaptured the fortune that was rightfully his, and well it’s Sam F’n Elliot he gets the girl. But right as he goes in to kiss her out of the corner of his eye Sam sees her bad guy boyfriend who Sam had previously handled pull a gun and say some weak bad guy line like “If I can’t have her neither will you”, Sam Elliot seemingly unaffected continues on with the kiss like the BAMF that he is and you hear two shots, bang! bang! The bad guy falls to the ground. Sams new Love moves her hand to his face and we notice its coated in blood. She screams as Sam Elliot falls to the ground! THE END!
Now we catch up to the ending where we see Sam Elliot lying there, the transcending sound of The Doors playing in the background, and as the narrator he says “would you look at me, lying there, all dead like and whatnot, I wasn’t always so, dead, dead to the world and its good verse evil mentality, well cowboy, today evil can kiss my ass” and We see Sam Elliot Sit up with a bandage on his side and his new love interest asleep beside him as he throws on his cowboy hat and holster and fade to black.
Remember when telling a story “The ends justify the means”