Monday, November 5, 2012

Make The Last One Count--A Little Something I Learned From Friday Night Lights

If you've followed me at all on Twitter over the last week, you know that I've been watching Friday Night Lights. I've seen a few episodes here and there over the years, but I have never sat down and watched the whole series (despite my mother's insistence during high school that I would love it.) She was right, of course. I do love it.

***I feel I should mention there are no spoilers below, but I do use pictures...***

What makes this series amazing? For me, it's the characters. Jason Katims, producer of FNL and currently Parenthood, makes all of his characters real and vibrant and multi-dimensional. I could seriously do a breakdown of FNL characters, but this post isn't about characters: it's about endings. And as writers, our endings have to count. 

I completed all five seasons of FNL in one week, and the finale episode - Always - got me thinking about lasts. Last moments, last images, last lines, the last time you will see the characters that you love in their element. It has to count. By the end of the show (or book) despite all the comings and goings of the characters, you love them. You're invested. And you want the payoff to be something worthy of your time and passion. FNL is one show that delivers.

The final episode of Friday Night Lights was one of the best hours of television I have ever seen. (And trust me, I've watched more hours of TV than some people have been alive.) TV is such a great tool to learn about story-telling--from characters to plot to pilots to endings. 

What makes the end of this series so good? Well, I have a few ideas and I think they apply to us as writers. And I swear, it only has a little bit to do with my love of 33 & 7. (Props if you know who they are & if you don't, then google!)

It's circular. 

For this show, the way things ended reflect a similarity to the way they began. It all felt true to them, from the slogan of the show to the characters' reflections, to the final sequence. It made every moment in the show feel like it mattered, like nothing was forgotten or lost or unexplained. Even as the characters grew from the beginning to the end, it still reflected a piece of who they were in the beginning--if only to show a difference in that piece at the end. A good ending will do this. It will be circular, a motion of growth and giving and finality. Everything connects, even in a small way. Plus, great endings answers all the big questions. 


It's believable.

I believed everything. That's really pretty self-explanatory. The places the characters ended up, the way they said goodbye or hello, where they traveled throughout the show to get there, the peace in their eyes or lives or hearts, the open-endedness of it all--I believed it. A good ending will be believable. You'll write it or read it and know there was no other way that could've happened, especially after all the crap the MCs had to go through to get there. 


It's memorable.

A good ending sticks with you. It presses something into your soul and your heart and even months later or years later you can still feel it and see it and love it. When you tell people about it, you'll tell them about that ending.

  • The first season finale of The Vampire Diaries
  • The end of Friends
  • David Tennant's last episode of Doctor Who (or heck, all the companions in DW)
  • The last scene in Titanic 
  • Remember Me
  • Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry. 

Those are some of my memorable endings. They are things that will always be talked about, always be part of me, always be something that connects me to that part of that story. Whether it's an image or an emotion or a goodbye, endings should be memorable.

It's final.

Even if it's not the end of a character, it's the end of our journey with the character. Like in Always, the characters in FNL are left in places that felt full circle, believable, memorable and final--even though in many ways their stories are just starting. We don't get to see what happens next, but we do get to think about it and hope that based on where the show ended, they are all in the path that we've wanted for them. It's not the end of their story, but it's the finale. And it's final. And I think, even in writing, we want that final place to be a place where the reader is left feeling that it's the end, but it's also the beginning.


It's forever.

Even if you don't watch Friday Night Lights, you probably have a show or a movie or a book that you love the ending of. Something that when someone talks about said show or movie or book, you connect with it because of X and Y. It's forever a part of you, a part of someone else, a part of history. Endings are forever, and as a writer, your story will be part of someone's forever. Be true to yourself, to your characters, to your story, and give it a great ending. Greatness remains forever.

So whatever you are working on, when you get to the end: Make it believable. Make it memorable. Make it great. Make it last.  



Side note: Here are four really great posts that talk about the ending of Friday Night Lights with more depth. If you've seen the show, you should check them out because they really break down what made that ending (and show) so believable and unforgettable.  One || Two || Three || Four

1 comment:

  1. I know nothing about American football but I loved FNL. My fiancee (who hardly watches any TV at all) and I were glued to the screen watching episode after episode. This story inspired, up lifted, broke my heart, made me laugh and made me cry in equal measure. Simply brilliant writing!