Robert McKee explains Why Your Ending Comes First

posted Apr 18, 2019, 4:58 PM by David Alan Binder

I know that I quote Robert quite a bit.  His wisdom can't be beat and when he talks, I listen.


Robert McKee emailed me the following explanation of why your ending comes first.


He always makes such good sense:


“Why Your Ending Comes First

The climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap. Without it, you have no story. Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.

Your ending is just the beginning.

Once a story climax is created, stories are in a significant way rewritten backwards, not forward. The flow of life moves from cause to effect, but the flow of creativity often pushes from effect to cause. Once you have your ending, it's your job to supply the hows and whys. All scenes must be thematically or structurally justified in light of creating your climax.

If a scene can be cut

without disturbing the impact of the ending,

it must be cut.


From the way you tell your story, you whisper to the audience: "expect an up ending", "expect a down ending" or "expect irony". Having pledged a certain emotion, it'd be ruinous not to deliver. Anyone can deliver a happy ending, or a downer. An artist gives us the emotion they've promised, but with a rush of unexpected insight they've withheld.

In other words, give the audience what they want,

but not in the way it expects.”