This year’s editing plan has led me to really start thinking about story structure. I’ll post a few of those thoughts here over the next few months – do let me know if you agree or disagree with my conclusions, or have any wisdom to add to my musings.
One of the plot points which is often highlighted in structure plans is the “False Finish”. It has various names, this is just the one I prefer. The idea is that towards the end of the story, the hero either thinks he’s succeeded or thinks he’s failed. It feels like an ending, but it’s unsatisfactory for one reason or another and ultimately is actually the beginning of the true ending, which will tie things up much more convincingly.
If you think of story structure as a fight scene, this is the point when Hero lands a killer punch on Villain’s jaw. Villain falls down, apparently dead. Hero turns to Love Interest and smiles. It feels like an ending, but it isn’t because in fact, Villain isn’t dead and will suddenly appear for one last-ditch attempt to kill Hero, only to be foiled by Hero’s quick reactions or a Sidekick character dealing a truly fatal blow. (This is the true finish, leaving only whatever wrap-up scene is necessary to show Hero and Love Interest riding off into the proverbial sunset.
Alternatively, the same thing, but with Hero seemingly knocked out, Villain looking up victorious (false finish), only for Hero to actually be pretending and rise up to save the day (true finish).
I get it, and I get that a false finish can be a good plot point. I’m just not sure it’s there in every great story. In fact, outside the Action and possibly Romance genres, I’m struggling to think of many examples. I’ve read that if you want to study story structure, movies are just as useful as novels, but even in the movies, I’m short on examples outside those genres. Stand By Me has one: they find the body (false finish), Ace arrives and they stand up to him (true finish), but I’ve gone through an awful lot of movies in my head to find that one.
Can you help me with other examples of the false finish? Do you think it’s really imperative? I’d love to hear from you.