You’ve got a killer opening scene, and your tension is ramped all the way through to the crisis and climax. You have built up engaging and credible characters, and now you are faced with how to close the curtain on your much-loved creation. But how do you make sure to write a successful ending to your play?
Here’s how to end a play script:
- Show, don’t tell in your play ending.
- Set up a clear course of cause and effect.
- Create a plausible conclusion to the dramatic build-up.
- Avoid Deus Ex Machina or cheat endings.
- Tie up loose ends.
- Let the audience release their tension.
A play may seem an organic whole when crafted with a skilled hand, but a play is also the sum of all its moving parts. The ending of your play is just as important as your opening scene in framing an authentic and satisfying audience experience. Read on to discover some writing techniques that will help you end your play script with a bang.
1. Show, Don’t Tell in Your Play Ending
The ending should answer the questions raised in the story, but you should achieve this by showing rather than telling. Try to write the scene so that the audience can figure out their answers on their own.
Let your closing themes convey themselves by events and actions, while not relying on dialogue as a dumping ground for closing revelations. When you find yourself using characters’ dialogue to explain the closing elements of your play, chances are you need to look back into the earlier stages of your play to rectify the situation.
A successful ending should feel inevitable if you have built your scenes towards a purposeful outcome. It doesn’t need to be a happy conclusion, but your audience should infer much of your closing from the believability of the preceding events.
2. Set Up a Clear Course of Cause and Effect
A great ending to a play is a sum of its parts and should follow a cause and effect structure, as each moment and scene creates a satisfying conclusion through a process of escalating tension.
Your protagonist should face increasingly difficult obstacles until they are faced head to head with their inner obstacles in one final stand. Crisis and climax often form the apex of the dramatic narrative, which then slides into falling action and the inevitable denouement.
3. Create a Plausible Conclusion to the Dramatic Build Up
Writing a killer ending to your play can tie up all the careful weaving of the dramatic narrative and deliver a sense of deep satisfaction to your audience.
Ultimately, suspension of disbelief in a theater is a trade-off between the audience and the playwright. The spectator holds off judgment, sees beyond the staged performance’s artifice, and engages in the drama as it unfolds.
An ending must be plausible and in keeping with all the preceding actions. This believability will address all the questions created by the storyline and resolve them to satisfy the audience’s expectations.
This resolution doesn’t mean that the ending needs to be happy. It just needs to be an ending consistent with the elements of the preceding action.
4. Avoid Deus ex Machina or Cheat Endings
The secret behind poorly received and quickly forgotten plays is playwrights who fail to deliver a satisfying ending. A novice playwright may face too many plot complications and interwoven narrative threads and decide to throw up their hands and create a cheat ending.
Deus ex Machina is a plot device where a playwright pulls “god out of the machine” and solves a seemingly unsolvable problem by an unlikely and unexpected occurrence. It comes from Ancient Greek and Roman theater, where an actor playing God descended from a “machine” to the stage and rescued the actors/characters from their inevitable plight.
It often defies audience suspension of disbelief if your ending is not drawn directly and logically from the preceding plot, such as introducing a new character, device, or event to tie up loose ends.
Making your ending credible is essential in creating an authentic audience experience.
Think Bobby Ewing in Dynasty. Spoilers for next couple of paragraphs. Okay, if you are not 80 years old, let me explain. When the scriptwriters of the once breakout soap opera faced a plot that had sidewinded itself, they pulled a Deus ex machina.
Bobby Ewing emerged from the dead to the shower scene sequence where Pam had dreamed all the months of preceding action.
Needless to say, the viewing public was far from impressed, as this reversal lost more viewers than their increasingly unsolvable plot complications. So in the end, you should avoid the same mistake they made when writing your play’s ending.
5. Tie Up Loose Ends
Like the famous Chekhov’s Gun, a playwright needs to resolve the most important dramatic questions posed during the play effectively.
As your tension mounts and the audience engages with the action of your play, specific questions might arise in their mind that ramp up their engagement. Once your play ends, your audience should be able to view the spreading actions from a new perspective that pays off their attention and provides them with answers to their questions.
Checkov famously stated that if a playwright introduces a loaded rifle to a scene, it should go off at some point, or it is making false promises to the audience.
Chekov gave this advice to many aspiring playwrights, which is relevant today. Writing your ending should not deliver false promises to your audience, and every element in your play and conclusion should be necessary and relevant to the play as a whole.
6. Let the Audience Release Their Tension
A great ending to a successful play forms a powerful validation that can often move an audience to tears that release the tension of the dramatic hardships your play presented. Powerful emotions are a good thing for your audience as these emotions cement your play in their heart and win you a devoted following. It’s worth researching the idea of catharsis.
The Purpose of Writing a Suitable Play Ending
The end of a play is the denouement, a concept based on a French word with Latin roots that translates to “untie the knot.” Through a process of crisis and climax, the end of a play unties the knots of the tension built up during the course of the play and releases tension.
The ending of your play is just as important as your opening scenes, and it plays a vital role in integrating your play into a comprehensive whole. The ending act retroactively brings all the preceding actions and scenes together to a satisfying conclusion for the audience.
This conclusion does not necessarily mean that your protagonists have to stride into a golden sunset. A tragic ending can be just as satisfying to an audience if it’s true to the escalating tension you build up in your previous scenes.
A well-crafted closing scene is pivotal in creating an engaging and transporting piece of theater that will stay in the minds and hearts of your audience. However, the ending should be a logical result of the cause and effect that precedes it and shouldn’t be a careless summing up of events.
Working hard to craft your ending can elevate your play and make your work stand out from all those mediocre productions lost to obscurity.