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Slightly obtuse title, let me elaborate.

I'm writing my first screenplay, and I'm trying to keep it simple while making it simultaneously wonderful. It's just a rom-com.

But as I write and modify and embellish the story, I can't seem to decide whether it's "enough."

Questions I'm asking myself: Does this portray an engaging series of events? Is this a story the viewer can get immersed in? Is this building to something, which is to say: Does this plot have enough conflict, tension, and suspense? Even in the soft doses involved in a rom-com?

I'm very unsure whether my story is too flat. How can I decide if I've reached the end?

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I believe this is answerable, as screenplays traditionally have a three-act structure. I tried an edit to make this less-open ended, how does it look? –  Neil Fein Apr 23 '13 at 18:31
    
First decide whether it does have a story; have you been following a plot? Or have you been following characters? It's impossible for me to know what yours is for sure but most rom-com's I know are 'slice-of-life'. Thus the pressure to provide an ending is far less than in other genres. Also, if that is the case, then I recommend the 'less-is-more' approach SF mentioned. –  Mussri Apr 23 '13 at 21:34
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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

If you didn't create an outline — that is, if you didn't know beforehand how it was going to end — then you're suffering from impeded arborvision (you can't see the forest for the trees).

1) Put it in a drawer and don't read it for a month. Come back with fresher eyes. You'd be amazed what you catch.

2) Hand it off to someone else and ask your reader if the story is finished. You need other perspectives.

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+1 for the 'leave it in a draw for a month' answer; I use this a lot myself. –  evilscary Apr 25 '13 at 14:11
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There are two classic good, satisfactory approaches to ending a story. Let me call them "Less is More" and "Afterglow."

"Less is more" ends before the key point - possibly seconds or hours before it. The text built a rich story in the reader's head, there were many threads that converged towards one single point. Then the explicit story, the one told to the reader ends - but only technically so. All the rest was written - by establishing directions of the threads, their interconnections, expected results - and so, when the text ends, the story continues in the reader's head, imagination builds upon the created foundation and events unveil in a very satisfactory train of thought, taking us through various possible outcomes and getting the results quite right. In essence: the last chapter is missing. You're a smart reader, think it up yourself.

"Afterglow" is the opposite. All pending minor threads get resolved - sometimes through one-sentence solutions like "X got sentenced to 7 years of prison", sometimes through extended scenes. It's an epilogue that lets us enjoy all the fruit of the prior struggle, observe all the fallout and collateral damage and really appraise the extent of effects as the author helps us take a step back and observe the entirety of the scene. It's an additional chapter added after the last chapter. "The story was awesome, now let's sit and reflect on it before we say good-bye."

There are of course less satisfactory endings: "cliffhanger" where the plots do not lead to clever resolutions but leave us with nagging questions, "And they lived happily forever" - ending right after the climax with a generic promise that it's all, or weird, memorable and interesting but not really satisfactory "non-endings" where the story didn't have a climax, explicit nor implied.

I guess I skipped a bunch of others I can't recall off top of my head, but unless it's a part of a series (where a cliffhanger would be acceptable), you will want either of these two, and choosing between them is fairly easy:

If your story has a surprising, unexpected, wild twist at the end, a bunch of side threads that served as tools at certain points but now are left hanging, unsolved answers - go for "Afterglow" and simply wrap up all remaining threads by simply switching "Fast forward" on - telling what happens in a year, in ten years or so. In sceneplay it can be done by narrator, by the characters making plans for the future or by retrospection by characters advanced in time - much older. (or by a dozen other methods...)

Now if your story built enough momentum to carry you directly to the climax, which doesn't contain any surprising twists but only a quite satisfactory "it went according to the plan", go for "Less is more" and cut it before the climax. Sum the rest up with single sentence at the very end. "It went all according to the plan" is an example of such a sentence.

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When it seems to you that the story is reaching an ending point, it's okay to end it. If all the plots aren't tied up, continue, but try not to make new ones, otherwise it's never gonna end.

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