Okay, I lied. I realized that figuring out a solid ending is going to take a post all its own. This is the place for it, so that we can outline backward from the end.
Let’s start at the end, as is proper. What does the climax to look like? What do I want the hero’s end state to look like?
Ugh. You know what? I’m tired of dancing around the main character not having a name. So I’m going to jump to Google, and search popular baby names around the time that he would have been born. Scrolling halfway down, I find Liam. There are a couple of actors with the name, but it’s not something I see in fiction much, so why not? I’d like to pretend my process is more complex, but that will do for now. Similarly, let’s call our villain Teresa.
There are really only four answers to this multiple choice question. A) Liam dies. B) Teresa dies. C) Both die. Or D) Neither die.
I’m telling a story revolving around a mystery between two characters. If both characters involved die, the mystery didn’t matter. So C is out. I put serious thought into saving them both, but I feel that I’d be breaking a core promise of the premise if no one died at the end of the lunch hour. Option D is out.
Now we have to ask: What tells the better story? A, or B? A, or B? Sorry, couldn’t resist. I think option B is much more traditional. Predictable, even. Hero lives, villain dies. It might still be seen as breaking the promise to the audience. But to be honest, I feel that our characters and themes demand option B. If Teresa lives, then what? Are we adapting a Cormac McCarthy story, where the meaninglessness and the lack of resolution is the point?
Teresa’s entire character is built around having no future left. What would happen if she lived through the lunch hour? I suspect that she’d commit suicide off-screen rather than be taken in by police. I’m not that nihilistic. I’d rather fall into saccharine than be needlessly bleak. And besides, that means that choosing option A is also choosing option C.
Liam also has the potential for meaningful character growth. He’s the one that can take away something from this incident.
Teresa dies, then. But how?
She could kill herself when she realizes that she doesn’t hate Liam anymore. Her hatred was all that gave her something to live for, and we’ve established that it’s likely she will ultimately self-destruct. But that strips away all agency from Liam. Liam has gone through the whole movie to get here. As the main character, his actions should determine where this ends.
Liam kills Teresa.
There are a couple of problems with that. First, Liam is unarmed while Teresa has him at gunpoint for the entire movie. We can write around that; he got her gun, he hid a knife, etc. But the core problem is, why? He could kill her to defend himself. But we’ve established throughout the entire story that he’s trying to save her, to save them both. It might be within his character to kill her in a selfish bid to save himself–depending on whether you believe people are capable of real change–but that would mean that he’s rejected the entire point of what’s happening and turns the story back to pointlessness.
Here’s where setting comes in. If Liam is a regular, then we’ve gotten small talk between him and employees at the diner at the very beginning of the movie. Assuming that the hostage situation isn’t revealed for a while, we get to know at least the waiter through a few more interactions. Teresa could take said waiter hostage (side note: If the waiter is a hostage for the climax, let’s make him a guy to shake up a stale plot element), and force Liam to choose.
This does a few things. Some good, some bad.
First, the bad. If handled poorly, it can feel like a cop out. Sure, make the villain cross a moral line she hadn’t been willing to for the rest of the movie, all so we won’t feel too bad about the hero killing her. So we have to establish that she’s willing to do this at some point. Or maybe make it clear to the audience (but not to Liam) that she’s bluffing.
Now, the good. Liam has been running in the name of self-preservation for the entire story. He’s just learned that his inaction might have cost two lives, and set these whole events into motion. Liam taking action could be the culmination of his entire character arc, and could realistically lead him to being a better person at the end of the film than at the beginning.
If we make the waiter young, teens/early twenties, in college or something, this last choice could represent both of the important choices made throughout the film. The kid is potential. You know, children are the future.
Sorry. I think I threw up in my mouth a little. Liam kills Teresa to save the waiter. It’s tragic, everyone cries, but Liam walks away changed for the better. Maybe even get a denouement where he checks to see if his druggie friend way back when actually died and tries to make amends. He’s fully accepted his past, and can truly move on, instead of only pretending to.
Now that we have the ending, the next part can start to build an outline. Sorry for pushing it back one post. I know that outlining is almost as interesting as showing your math.