The best stories act like book ends with a beginning that mirrors the end. In “Whiplash,” the hero is practicing the drums in a room when the story starts. In the end, the hero is playing the drums in a concert. In the beginning of “Star Wars,” Darth Vader is trying to capture Princess Leia’s starship. In the end, Darth Vader is trying to blow up the rebel base with Princess Leia on it. If you know your beginning, you automatically know your end.
In “Kingsman,” the story begins with secret agents interrogating a prisoner. The story ends with the hero as a secret agent rescuing a prisoner. Look at any good movie and you’ll see the similarity between the beginning and the end. In “Back to the Future,” the hero enters Doc’s laboratory. In the end, the hero takes off with Doc to the future.
The end of most movies needs to be the climax so the beginning needs to foreshadow that climactic ending. In the end of “Avatar,” the hero has finally merged into his new body. In the beginning of “Avatar,” the hero is a cripple in a wheelchair. When you know the ending, you know the beginning, and you know how your hero needs to change from the beginning to get to the end.
In “Whiplash,” the hero wants to be great but isn’t quite there yet. What’s unique in “Whiplash” is that the villain is also the mentor. Through his experiences, the hero learns to become the best drummer he can be, and that’s how he finishes in the end, being great enough that even the villain finally acknowledges his talent.
Common beginning-ending structures look like this:
- Arrivals and departures
- Emptiness and fulfillment
- Small problem and much larger problem
Think of “Die Hard” and “Terminator 2″ where the hero arrives in the beginning and departs in the end.
Think of every romantic comedy where the hero is living a lonely, empty life and finally finds love in the end, going from emptiness to fulfillment.
Think of “Kingsman” and “Whiplash” where the story begins with a small problem and ends with a much larger problem. In “Kingsman,” secret agents are interrogating a prisoner and nearly get killed. By the end, the hero has to save the world before he can rescue a princess being held prisoner. In “Whiplash,” the hero starts off trying to improve his drumming skills and by the end, he gets to showcase his drumming skills.
In “WALL-E,” the hero has a small problem of finding love. By the end, he has a much bigger problem of saving humanity from being marooned in space forever. In the process, he finds love.
When creating your story, think of these common beginning-ending structures to see which one works best for your story. There may likely be other beginning-ending structures but these three can give you a start on spotting them in other movies. Then you can see how effective they are in good movies or how sloppy they are in bad movies.