On the Movie, Focus, and Writing the Perfect Ending

As a movie buff, I have a few favorite actors whose films I’ll always check out. Most people probably have their favorites but mine include Hugh Jackman, Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Will Smith.

This last actor hFocus posteras a new movie out, Focus, which doesn’t disappoint. Earning three to three-and-a-half stars at many review sites, the movie looks into the world of con artists as seen through the viewpoint of Will Smith’s character. After about thirty minutes in, I felt like I never wanted to go to a public place again, particularly during a popular event like the Super Bowl. The cons were everywhere and in multiple forms.

I won’t go into the movie’s plot for fear of giving out spoilers. However, Focus can teach writers a lot about endings. The conclusion of any story should not be predictable or a cliché. However, it must be obvious once you know the ending and yet still a surprise to the reader. Writers find it tricky to balance out the obvious with a surprise ending but the movie succeeds at this exceedingly well. It misleads the viewer into thinking one direction when everything gets turned around at the end. Once you know the whole story, it’s easy to look back at scenes and go “oh, that makes so much more sense now.”

I can name other great fiction examples that supply surprising yet perfectly obvious endings. Certainly Harry Potter’s world provided one with Harry actually dying and then still winning the day afterwards. Plus, I was completely surprised at the explanation of Snape’s protective role over Harry through the years. The very end of the Hunger Game series presents a similar example. I won’t give it away here (it might spoil the movie), but Katniss’s actions are shocking but so accurate to the character that the end redeems the final book despite some of the plot weaknesses.

So when you write, don’t go for the cliché. Keep your main characters true to their natures and they will lead you to a perfect finale. Remember that writing fiction is like creating a magic trick, and you must keep the reader guessing until the very end.

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