[I’ve been doing a weekly Story Design Tips column for seven months, now. A few weeks ago I asked if you had some questions or issues you would like to see addressed in future columns. One email I received asked for tips about writing better endings. This is the third out of three articles giving three approaches to designing beautiful endings.]
We’re talking about beautiful endings to the games you design. We covered how to get the best out of closure. We talked about giving the readers a feeling of beauty in a beautiful ending. Now we’re going to talk about the emotional core.
The Emotional Core of the Story
The core of any story has many aspects that we don’t always think about. It has the various plots and subplots, sure. But it also has a lesson. Your story has a basic emotion it evokes in the players, whether you meant to have one or not. The story has a conflict with at least two sides. The story has a philosophical aspect to it.
(We’re going to give the philosophical aspect of the story the weight it deserves in another column. For now, just look at both sides of your conflict as having two opposing philosophical ideologies. When the two sides of the conflict fight, the ideologies battle, as well.)
The various aspects of the story are tied up in the conflict throughout the story: the philosophical aspect, the emotion of the story, and the plot.
To achieve the best results out of the ‘showdown’ scene in your game’s conflict, you need to put all these together while seeming to do as little as possible. It’s not pizzazz that makes a good ending, it’s the conflict, as naked, bare, and pure as could be.
Tip #1: Pit only the top representatives of the conflict against each other.
If you’ve got two armies battling each other, odds are it’s not the armies that represent the conflict, but only one character on either side. These are the ones who have to meet in the final conflict, not the armies.
Resist the temptation to go for the grandiose. You can do that before the final conflict. For the final conflict to be truly effective, pit only the representatives of the conflict need to face off against each other.
Tip #2: Strip away everything that isn’t the conflict between these two from the scene.
If you add effects, a lightshow, more characters, more noise, more anything – that means you don’t believe your scene is powerful enough to stand on its own. But if you’ve built a powerful story with a powerful conflict, what it demands is a bare-boned resolution. Put the glitz beforehand, but keep this scene stripped of anything but pure conflict and conflict resolution.
Tip #3: Save the best philosophy for last
Make sure that whatever philosophical differences exist between the two sides get their ultimate floor in this scene. Don’t repeat what you’ve said before; save the best for last.
Philosophical resolution doesn’t have to come out in speech, and certainly not long and winded ones. For example, if your conflict has to do with ‘What’s best? Being strong or being smart?” then no doubt you’ve set up both representatives as either a super-muscled guy vs. a super brainy guy with no muscles. Their fight will also resolve their philosophical difference.
There are many ways to represent different philosophies. Some are visual, some are in personality and character, some are in speech, and some are a mixture of any of these. You have to find the right way to represent your philosophical conflict and to have the two sides face each other philosophically and not just physically.
Tip #4: Have a visual which represents the conflict at its purest level.
There should be a time in your scene where, if the player paused the picture and saved it, the entire story, conflict, and philosophy of your entire game should be clear. At some point in the final conflict, find a visual that represents everything your story is in as simple a way as possible.
Follow all these rules and you’ll have a beautiful and emotionally satisfying conflict resolution. Good luck!
[As always, if you have any more suggestions for future columns about story design or if you have questions you want answers to, please leave them in the comments below or email me at guyhasson at gmail dot com. I’ll try to address them.]