Every screenplay needs a resolution. No matter the format, the resolution is a crucial story element that completes the screenplay. But what is the resolution in a screenplay and how can you ensure that your screenplay has one? In this article, we are breaking down resolutions and discussing three core elements for effective resolutions.
WHAT IS A RESOLUTION?
The resolution is the moment after the climax and resolves the main story (or A story) in this world, even if there are more stories to be told. Not everything has to be resolved but it is imperative that the main story is resolved and we either see the solution to the protagonist's problem or their new normal.
Having an effective resolution doesn't mean that everything has to be tied up neatly with a bow. There can still be more story to be told, but whether the character reaches their goal needs to be clear and resolved and poses the question of what will the protagonist's life look like now. Let's take a look at three elements that all screenplay resolutions need to ensure that your screenplay has an effective ending.
3 TIPS TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE RESOLUTION
1. Make sure that the protagonist’s goal is clear. The goal should be clear before we are out of Act I. It is important to know the goal so that when we reach the resolution, we know exactly what we are resolving. If we don’t see the protagonist trying to reach a goal through the screenplay then the resolution will not feel earned. To learn more about how to set effective goals for your protagonist check out our All About Goals article.
2. The protagonist needs to reach their internal need, even if they don’t reach their external goal. Not all goals need to be reached, but the internal goal does need to be met to ensure the protagonist has a strong emotional arc. The protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to win the battle and live happily ever after, but they do need to have a clear transformation from where they started to where they end. Their journey must change them to make the adventure and resolution worthwhile.
3. All set ups should be paid off. Everything in a screenplay matters. If something was set up, foreshadowed, or brought to our attention in the previous acts, it all needs to be resolved by or in the resolution. Leave no stone unturned. Otherwise, your reader will have more questions than answers and the resolution will be unclear.
THE LITTLE MERMAID
Let’s take a look at Disney’s remake of The Little Mermaid which hit theatres a few weeks ago. Ariel has several goals throughout the film which we are able to easily track so that the resolution feels earned. First, her goal is to be in the world with humans. Her second goal is to get kissed by Prince Eric so that she can keep her legs and fall in love. Her last goal is to defeat Ursula and avenge her Father. In the resolution, both her internal need and external goal has been met. She receives her Father’s approval which she has been longing for and is granted legs to marry Prince Eric and sets out to explore the world together. There are no set ups that haven’t been paid off. The main story is concluded and Ariel gets her happily ever after.
Watching movies is great but as a screenwriter, reading screenplays is even better. Want to read more screenplays? Be sure to check out our Screenplay Vault where we have dozens of screenplays available to read for free.
IT ALL STARTS WITH THE OUTLINE
If your prior story elements are not clear, then neither will your resolution be. A screenplay builds upon itself, so if your Act I doesn’t establish a goal and we have nothing to track in Act II, then your resolution won’t land. Making sure your screenplay has all of the necessary story elements happens in the outlining phase. Looking to up your outlining game? Then be sure to register for our 6-Week Outlining Workshop Series! In this workshop you’ll meet weekly to understand not only how to outline your screenplay, but also learn screenplay structure and more. This workshop is great for writers of all levels. Class begins July 16th. Click here to register.
Khadija Roane is a Magna Cum Laude graduate from the illustrious Howard University where she received her BFA in Theatre Arts. Khadija then graduated from UCLA's MFA Producers program where she interned in film and television development at MACRO, Vertigo Films, Gamechanger Films, and Pamplona Productions before working as a Scripted TV Assistant at WME. She has placed in the Pittsburgh Shorts Screenwriting Competition and the Atlanta Film Festival, and received the Barbara Boyle Promising Producer Award. Khadija lives in Los Angeles where she is an independent filmmaker and a Story Expert at The Professional Pen.