Endings—where stories leave the audience: Part two

In the first part of this story, we looked at why endings are such a make-or-break element in storytelling, and how weak endings break the trust between the audience and the storyteller. In this second part, we’re going to explore how brands can consistently create good story endings by considering their company values, key personality traits and media goals.

One of my favourite lecturers at university spoke about how a mediocre work of art would lead the observer towards entertainment, a good work of art towards inspiration, a great work of art towards insight and a masterpiece towards realisation. This always stayed with me. Now I know that this applies a little differently to all forms of expression, including stories.

From our experience at Public Works, the ending of brand stories are most successful, consistent and memorable when they are connected to your brand personality and values. Some brands want to inspire, some want to entertain, some like to give insight, and others like to make a connection. In our storytelling process, we identify these aspects of a brand with the involvement of the client, at the very beginning of our work together.

We ask them questions about how they want to be remembered, how they want to influence the world, how they want to connect with others, and what they themselves are seeking for. Depending on what the client brand identifies as their preferred point of influence, connection, exploration, and legacy, we consistently build stories that lead to endings that generate the right brand perception. 

In commercial storytelling, it’s through these desired brand perceptions, that storytellers can craft the most successful endings; Consider if your brand should be delivering the audience with endings of justice and satisfaction, surprising twists or thrilling cliff hangers; or is it a brand that delivers happily-ever-afters? Endings left unresolved, or abstract, can be tricky—unless the storyteller can make a point out of that uncertainty. In commercial storytelling, we find that endings with a ‘zoom out on a big picture’ work great for brands that want to deliver insight, while endings that create relief through a solution are particularly good to show how certain problems can be resolved.

Endings with prompts are particularly useful to inspire people to do something, or become part of something. One of my personal favourite endings to storytelling is ‘closing the circle’; returning the story observer to the beginning. If we’ve done our job as storytellers, ‘closing the circle’ type of endings highlight to the observer how their own understanding has shifted through the story, creating a sense of awe and a greater appreciation for their experience. Much of storytelling is cyclical. Sometimes it’s a metaphorical return home, such as in ‘The Hero’s Journey’ story pattern, while in other cases, the cycle is quite literal with the story ending where it started.

An all-important aspect to consider when crafting successful endings to brand stories are the current media goals of the client. What is the client intending to achieve from the stories? Sell? Inspire? Invite the audience to participate in an event? Build brand awareness?

These are important conversations to have at the beginning of the storytelling process. Of course, media goals shift over time; and we recommend clients to realign them to coincide with changing business strategies and market contexts every six months to one year. Framing story endings with media goals has given our clients stories that consistently contribute to their business.

Endings are one of the most important, effective and interesting aspects in storytelling; to understand how you can create stories with endings that lead to better business, get in touch with me at our storytelling studio Public Works.

Endings—where stories leave the audience: Part one

I don’t judge a book by its cover, but I definitely judge it by the ending. I always read the ending of a book before I delve fully into it. If the ending is weak I usually become hesitant about investing my time on that book; And, I don’t think I’m alone there. 

There’s no question about the significance of endings when it comes to stories. From the perspective of the observer, the ending is their last interaction with the story—the place where they leave the created world in the story, and return to their reality; It’s their moment to decipher meaning out of the story experience; the final takeaway. From the storyteller’s perspective, it is the last impression you get to make in your audience’s mind. It’s what we leave the audience with; it’s where you send them off to arrive at meaning. 

1909, Meredith, George. The adventures of Harry Richmond published by Constable, London.

As storytellers, we pay special attention to the ending for two major reasons; First, because we owe the audience an ending that returns the value of the time they invested into the story. This is why weak endings—worse, lazy and inconsiderate endings like ‘it was all a dream’—break the trust between the audience and the storyteller; in the case of brand stories, you can see why consistently weak endings definitely harm the consumer perception of your business. The ending must deliver something worthwhile to the audience. The second reason why we pay special attention to endings in the storytelling process, is that it is the component that audiences most consistently retain. Think about how much you remember from the ending of your favorite movies versus their beginning. People usually remember endings better. In commercial storytelling, this is why the ending is where a prompt, also called a ‘call to action’, is most commonly brought in. 

If an audience invests time into a story, the storytellers must deliver an ending that reciprocates the value of their time. Weak endings break the trust between the audience and the storyteller. Your stories should never waste their time.

How do you make sure that an ending is good? How do you ensure the quality of the final takeaway you give your audience is retained consistently? You give the audience something of value. You give them insight, entertainment, inspiration or a solution to fulfil a need; you reciprocate the investment they made with their time. With our work at Public Works, we often use a combination of image, sound and word to create effective endings that deliver heightened emotivity and interest to the audience. 

In the second part of this story, we’ll talk about our process to create brand-appropriate endings and how story endings connect to company values and personality. Endings are one of the most important, effective and interesting aspects in storytelling; to understand how you can create stories with endings that lead to better business, get in touch with me at our storytelling studio Public Works.