STORY ESSENTIALS #8: Aftermath
This series reveals what I consider to be the ESSENTIAL components of any great story. These are the principles you must master if you want to impact people’s lives – and increase your revenue – whether you’re creating a film, TV episode, novel, non-fiction or instructional book, speech, webinar, blog or sales pitch.
Humanity is drawn to stories because they provide us with entertainment, enlightenment, emotional experiences and escape from our everyday lives.
But great stories do more. They give us a feeling of connection to others, and a better sense of what it means to be human. They provide hope that the world can be a better place if we can find the daring and determination to confront our demons and overcome the obstacles we face. They teach us how to live better.
And almost every story you see or hear or read that impacts you in this way does so by revealing an AFTERMATH at the end of its hero’s journey.
In the previous article in this series, I discussed the power of the CLIMAX of a story. This is that peak emotional moment when the hero crosses the finish line and achieves (or occasionally fails to achieve) the goal he or she has been striving for. This is the moment of victory or defeat that we have been anticipating and rooting for since the beginning of the story.
But think what would be lost if a story ended at that precise moment, and we never got to see what became of the hero or the other characters in the story as a result of achieving the desired outcome. How satisfying would a story be if we didn’t get to see the consequences of what had happened, or the new life the hero is now living as a reward for their courage?
Imagine STAR WARS IV ending the moment the death star explodes, or Avengers: Endgame if we didn’t see the touching and fulfilling reunion of all the remaining Avengers, and never got to find out about Captain America’s decision about his own future.
The aftermath is often just a short glimpse of how life has changed for the hero. But even that single minute of Rocky Balboa hollering “Adrian,” and being reunited with her amid the deafening roar of the crowd in ROCKY; or Mark Watney passing on his newfound wisdom to future astronauts in THE MARTIAN; or even the interview with the newlyweds in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY; they all let us see that the world is back in balance, and that determination, courage and love have prevailed.
HBO Max’s terrific limited series MARE OF EASTTOWN spends seven episodes dramatizing hero Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) as she pursues her primary visible goals: solving the murder of a young girl and bringing that killer to justice. So imagine if at the climax in Episode 7 – the moment she identifies and apprehends the killer – we cut immediately to the credits, with no aftermath. How would you feel at that moment?
If that were the ending of the series, we would lose the powerful, gut-wrenching denouement between her and Lori (Julianne Nicholson), the one friend who has stood by Mare throughout her ordeal. We would miss learning whether Mare had any hope of moving on from her pain and guilt over her own wound from the past, whether she and her mother (Jean Smart) could find any deeper connection, or how the crime and its resolution had affected any of the many other captivating characters in the story.
(You may notice I’m being purposely oblique here in case you haven’t seen the series. I urge you to watch it – it’s nominated for 15 prime time Emmys – and I don’t want to spoil it if you do.)
If you are an entrepreneur, speaker or business executive who wants to persuade people to take action, the aftermath is essential to every one of your stories. You must portray the new life you or your hero was able to live after following the process you’re offering to your followers. And the rewards your hero achieves in the story must match those your prospects desire for themselves.
So if your audiences or target market wish they had more time for fun and family, then your story should show how you or your satisfied client achieved that by using your product, or by following the principles of your book, course or consulting. The aftermath of your story must then provide a vivid picture of your hero living his or her new, more balanced and more fulfilling life.
The aftermath of your story reveals how your hero’s life has changed from the way it was at the beginning of your story – how they, and those close to them, have transformed.
But to understand what this change must entail, and why it is a critical element of your screenplays, novels and business stories, you’ll have to wait for the final chapter in this series: STORY ESSENTIALS #9: Transformation. See you then.
Links to Michael’s previous articles in this series: