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Six Great Themes for Stellar Stories

Interstellar’s stellar themes
Interstellar’s stellar themes

Much has been written about Interstellar’s breathtaking visuals, sound effects, and musical score, but today, I want to highlight Nolan’s use of six great themes that elevate any story—themes that help to define us as a species.

  1. Good & Evil: The Duality of Human Nature.

Interstellar is more than just a sci-fi adventure story—it’s a profound exploration of the two sides of human nature. This is brilliantly illustrated through the character of Dr. Mann, played by Matt Damon.

At first, Mann is talked about as the embodiment of heroism, hailed as a beacon of hope for humanity. But as we peel back the layers, his mask crumbles, exposing a dark side driven by fear and desperation. The revelation of Mann’s betrayal on the ice planet serves as a stark reminder of how thin the veneer of civilization can be, warning us of the dangers of unchecked ambition and the loss of our moral compass.

When Mann sabotages Cooper and attempts to escape, we see the devastating consequences of his actions, underscoring the film’s cautionary message about the potential for evil within us all.

  1. Truth or Lies?

Interstellar boldly explores the theme of truth versus falsehood. One powerful example is the scene where Cooper confronts his children’s school about their false teachings on the moon landing.

This moment reminds us of our current struggle against misinformation and the manipulation of facts to drive specific narratives. Yet, as Cooper and his team venture into the unknown, the film ultimately champions the pursuit of truth in search of the awe-inspiring secrets of the universe.

Cooper’s disapproval of the school’s indoctrination highlights the critical importance of truth in an age of deception, setting the stage for the film’s exploration of cosmic realities.

3. Transcendence or Rootedness?

A central theme in Interstellar is the tension between the need to be grounded in one’s heritage, in one’s roots, and the desire to transcend them. Cooper embodies this duality, torn between his deep love for his family and his insatiable drive to explore space. This theme is poignantly demonstrated in his relationship with his daughter, Murphy, and his desire to help humanity survive by discovering a new inhabitable planet to replace our dying one.

Cooper’s heartfelt monologue about humanity’s need to look to the stars while staying connected to its roots is a powerful testament about finding a balance between exploration and home.

  1. Hope and Salvation.

Amidst the bleak prospects of a dying Earth, the film offers a story of hope and salvation. The missions Lazarus and Endurance symbolise humanity’s relentless quest for survival and redemption. The film’s hopeful message is encapsulated in the journey to find a new home for humanity, or, at least, a vast sample of the human genome, underscoring our resilience and optimism as a species. The awe-inspiring launch of the Endurance mission serves as a metaphor for the leap of faith required to seek out new beginnings and instill a sense of hope in the face of extinction.

  1. The Importance of Heritage.

Interstellar pays homage, through the sci-fi genre, to the past while looking to the future. This theme of honouring our roots and heritage is woven in throughout the film, from its references to literary classics to the cinematic techniques reminiscent of earlier masterpieces. By doing so, Nolan not only celebrates the wisdom of those who came before us, but also celebrates the power and guidance that stories are capable of offering us, if we are to avoid destruction.

The inclusion of books like The Stand by Stephen King in Murphy’s room and the visual nods to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey enrich the narrative, reminding us of the legacy that shapes our present and our future.

  1. Enduring Love.

But at its core, Interstellar is a story about love, a love that transcends time, space, and our limited understanding about the nature of our reality—such as the number of dimensions that truly exist. The bond between Cooper and his daughter Murphy is long and unbreakable—a thread that stitches the narrative together, showing the profound impact of love on human destiny. This theme is most powerfully expressed through their interactions and the sacrifices Cooper for humanity.

The gut-wrenching scene where Cooper leaves Murph, promising to return, is proof of the power of love that drives him to get back home and fulfill his promise to her. It drives his actions throughout the film, ultimately reuniting them from across the vistas of space and time.

Interstellar, then, challenges us to contemplate humanity’s place in the universe through its exploration of profound themes and masterful storytelling. It is a film that will continue to endure because it reveals the core of what it means to be human.


Use the great themes in your stories—truth, survival, heritage, values, and love to explore the best in human nature, so that we may avoid the worst.

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How to Write Heartbreaking Subtext

Heartbreaking subtext in Dangerous Liaisons
Heartbreaking subtext in Dangerous Liaisons

Subtext in stories, when masterfully crafted, can create humour, levity, and a sense of play for readers and audiences, but it can also generate discomfort and raise story questions.

Subtext arises when readers and audiences are made aware of the true meaning of words and actions in a scene, but some, or even all of the characters in the scene remain oblivious to it.

Let’s see how it works!

In the iconic scene from the film Dangerous Liaisons, the Vicomte De Valmont, portrayed by John Malkovich, generates powerful emotions as he delivers a crushing blow to Madame De Tourvel, played by Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a scene charged with pain, tension and emotional complexity, revealing the power of subtext and its profound impact on the audience. Here, the subtext—the connotative meaning of the words is that De Valmonte loves Madame De Touvel deeply, but his pride and personality will not let him admit it, lest it enslave him, so he denies his love, and goes out of his way to hurt her. The dramatic irony here is that he knows his love for her is so deep that it would control him—something he cannot abide.

  1. The Illusion of Control

De Valmont’s words, “It’s beyond my control,” is a phrase repeated many times in the scene, drawing our attention to its deeper significance. For one, it points to the illusion of control that people cling to. For another, despite his apparent freedom of choice in the situation, De Valmont absolves himself of responsibility by suggesting that external forces are dictating his actions. This mirrors a common psychological phenomenon where individuals rationalize their behavior by attributing it to circumstances beyond their control. It’s a coping mechanism, an attempt to reconcile their actions with their self-image.

This reminds us of the fable of the scorpion and the frog where the scorpion’s destructive nature leads to the drowning of the both of them, and is excused with the phrase, “It’s in my nature.”

De Valmont’s assertion that leaving Madame De Tourvel is “The way of the world,” echoes this sentiment. The audience is confronted with the disconcerting truth that people may choose to relinquish accountability rather than to confront the consequences of their actions.

  1. Manipulation and Deception

Throughout Dangerous Liaisons, manipulation and deception are recurrent motifs, and the subtext of this scene is no exception. De Valmont’s words are carefully chosen to manipulate Madame De Tourvel into accepting his decision, despite her heartfelt pleas. By framing his actions as inevitable and beyond his control, he effectively shifts the blame away from himself and onto external factors. This manipulation adds complexity to the scene, drawing the audience into the intricate web of deceit.

Again, De Valmont’s behavior reflects a broader societal tendency to evade accountability through a linguistic sleight of hand. Phrases like “It’s not my fault” or “I can’t help it” are often used to justify morally dubious actions, shielding individuals from the consequences of their behavior and their conscience. In this way, the scene serves as a poignant commentary of the ability of language to shape perception and manipulate reality.

  1. The Tragic Cost of Pride

At the heart of De Valmont’s decision to leave Madame De Tourvel is his pride, which refuses to allow him to give his love to a single woman. Despite his deep feelings for her, he chooses to prioritise his own ego over their relationship, ultimately leading to tragic consequences for both of them, which ironically is the ultimate proof of the love they shared. The theme of pride as a destructive force is a recurring motif in literature and film and lends this scene a poignant sense of enduring tragedy.

De Valmont’s reluctance to admit vulnerability or emotional dependency reflects his aversion to perceived weakness. By framing his decision as a matter of pride rather than love, he tries to shield himself from the pain of emotional intimacy, but ends up perpetuating a cycle of suffering for both himself and Madame De Tourvel. It’s a powerful reminder of the destructive power of unchecked pride and ego.

  1. The Echoes of Reality

As De Valmont bludgeons his lover with his fateful words, over and over again, echoing sentiments of inevitability and resignation, we are confronted with the uncomfortable truth that his behavior mirrors real-world attitudes towards accountability and responsibility. The scene is a microcosm of broader societal dynamics, where individuals often prioritise self-interest over empathy and integrity.

This reflection of reality in the subtext underscores the film’s enduring relevance and resonates with audiences on a deeper level. In a world where accountability is often avoided and responsibility shifted onto external forces, the scene serves as a reminder of the importance of confronting the consequences of our actions.


Subtext occurs when readers and the audiences are made aware of the true meaning of words and actions in a scene, but some, or even all of the characters in the scene remain oblivious to it.

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Dreams in Stories

Dreams in Storytelling
Dreams in Storytelling

In storytelling, dreams function as powerful tools that explore mysteries, characters’ psyches, and blur the lines between reality and imagination. The Test Dream (S5 E11) from The Sopranos masterfully exemplifies this narrative technique, showcasing how dreams can be utilised to deepen the narrative and expose hidden truths. Here are five points elucidating the significance of dreams in storytelling, supported by specific examples from this ambitious episode:

The gist of the episode features Tony’s problems emanating from his affairs, the problems they have wrought on his marriage, and a dream that reveals the assassination of mob members that can lead to a full-scale war. This hints at the prophetic, poetic power of dreams.

Exploring Subconscious Desires and Fears: Dreams provide a stage on which to act out the subconscious desires, premonitions, and the fears of characters. In The Test Dream, Tony’s dream sequences offer glimpses into his deepest anxieties and desires. For instance, his dream interactions with deceased characters like Gloria Trillo and his cousin Tony Blundetto reveal unresolved guilt and trauma. These encounters reflect Tony’s subconscious grappling with the consequences of his actions and the weight of his wrongdoing, adding depth to his character.

Symbolism and Metaphor: Dreams are laden with symbolism and metaphor. Freud and Jung spend their entire lives studying them. Dreams allow writers to convey complex themes sub-textually, in poetic and abstract ways. In the episode, recurring motifs such as the horse symbolise Tony’s problems with his marriage, self-control and self-worth. The surreal imagery of riding a horse through his living room serves as a metaphor for Tony’s attempt to navigate, with grace and authority, an increasingly chaotic life littered with affairs and criminal associations.

Blurring Reality and Fantasy: Dream sequences blur the lines between reality and fantasy, challenging the audience’s perception of what is real. The Test Dream dives into Tony’s subconscious world, creating a sense of disorientation, forcing us to try and make sense of what we are seeing. The blending of subconscious experience drawn from the materials from Tony’s life is juxtaposed against the fluid nature of dreams, where logic and coherence give way to surrealism and randomness, yet still manage to convey significance.

Foreshadowing and Revelation: Dreams can also foreshadow future events or reveal hidden truths that characters may not consciously acknowledge. In this episode Tony’s dream encounters with Annette Bening and deceased Detective Vin Makazian, Finn’s mother and father, and other deceased characters, foreshadow Tony B’s murder of Billy Leotardo and wounding of Phil because they murdered Angelo, Tony B’s former cell mate. These surreal encounters serve as harbingers of the challenges, assignations, and persistent conflicts that await Tony in the waking world.

Narrative Innovation and Artistry: Dream sequences offer opportunities for narrative innovation and artistic expression. The Test Dream is a proof of the creative possibilities of dream storytelling, with its inventive visuals, surreal imagery, unconventional narrative structure, and its inclusion of cultural references such as Chinatown, The Godfather, The Valachi Papers, Scrooge, and many, many more. Matthew Weiner and David Chase’s writing and the cast’s performances elevate the dream sequences from fanciful plot devices to evocative and poetic explorations of symbolism, character and theme. The result is a story that rises above its denotative dimension, lifted by its connotative, multi-layered wings.


Dreams enrich storytelling by dipping into the characters’ subconscious, employing symbols and metaphors, blurring reality and fantasy, foreshadowing future events, and showcasing the poetic dimension inherent in narrative innovation.

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Foreshadowing your way to writing success

Foreshadowing in The Shining

What is foreshadowing and how does it help you write engaging stories? Let’s find out!

Foreshadowing is the skill of preparing readers or audiences to consciously or unconsciously accept the actions and events that will unfold later in a story. There are two main types of foreshadowing: Direct, where clues are openly laid out for all to see, and Indirect or subtle, where the clues are subtly hidden a little deeper into the narrative. In terms of writing skill, foreshadowing often increases the sense unity in a story by tying together seemingly unconnected actions, events, or objects across narrative time.

Let’s say, as in the case of subtle foreshadowing, that the audience has unconsciously noticed something earlier in the story, but not paid much attention to it, only to have it suddenly snap into place a little later as something which makes sense of a current narrative event. This acts as a bridge across time, creating a sense of fullness and unity in the mind of the audience.

In Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, we are presented with a masterclass in the use of foreshadowing. Firstly, let’s examine a couple of examples of direct foreshadowing from the film.

Direct Foreshadowing: There will be blood!

Direct foreshadowing places the audience in a heightened state of anticipation: The tsunami of blood in the elevator serves as a visceral example of direct foreshadowing. It leaves no room for misinterpretation, foretelling the horror and violence that will soon consume the Torrence family. This sequence represents the evil that Danny has foreseen—rooted in the hotel’s cruel history. (Tony, Danny’s alter ego, reveals to Danny that he doesn’t want to go to the hotel). The obvious suggestion is that more blood will be shed.

Here’s another example of direct foreshadowing: The hotel manager tells Jack that a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, killed his wife, two young daughters and himself at the hotel a decade prior, but it his duty to tell Jack about the event. The not-so-subtle hint to the audience is that Jack will do the same to his own family.

Subtle foreshadowing: Watch now, understand later

But it is subtle foreshadowing that truly helps to distinguish The Shining. While it works together with direct foreshadowing, subtle foreshadowing acts under the surface, building up a sense of unease that we can’t put our finger on. It trades the predictability of direct foreshadowing for a creeping anxiety that is only released in moments of revelation when the audience puts things together.

As the Torrance family arrives at the Overlook Hotel, for example, we catch a brief glimpse of the hedge maze from an aerial shot. This seemingly innocuous detail plants the seed of the maze’s significance as a symbol of the psychological labyrinth that will ensnare Jack Torrance and his family. But whereas Jack will become lost in the maze,, Danny will escape it. This is hinted at through the ease with which Danny navigates the labyrinth-like spaces of the hotel on his tricycle. The motif is re-iterated through the maze pattern on the carpets of the corridors.

Another example of subtle foreshadowing occurs when Danny’s mother takes the boy on a tour of the ground’s hedge maze, while inside the Overlook Hotel, Jack stoops over a model of the labyrinth, watching wickedly from above. Ironically the walk-through helps Danny to find his way out later when he is stalked by his axe-wielding father.

Jack himself is also the vehicle for plenty of foreshadowing: His slow descend into madness, for example, is hinted at by his repetitive typing of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This mindless activity provides a snapshot of his unraveling psyche.

Additionally, during a conversation between Jack and Lloyd the bartender, Jack’s preference for bourbon on the rocks seems innocuous at first. However, it subtly hints at Jack’s impending lapse into alcoholism which had once caused him to break Danny’s arm while drunk. This vulnerability will later be exploited by the malevolent forces within the hotel.

Mirror mirror on the wall

The use of mirrors in cinema often points to fractured psyches and altered realities. Mirrors hint at the existence of worlds within worlds, worlds where horrors lurk beneath the normal and the ordinary. But what they reveal may also serve as a warning to those who are able to interpret them correctly through their ability to shine.

The eerie appearance of the twins to Danny at the start, serves to foreshadow the growing emergence of the supernatural forces at play within the hotel—setting the stage for the chilling events that will unfold.

Examples such as these, then, demonstrate the ability of foreshadowing, whether direct or subtle, to prepare audiences for forthcoming events.


Foreshadowing can be direct or indirect. Both add to story unity. Direct foreshadowing creates immediate anticipation, while indirect or subtle foreshadowing creates ah-ha moments later in the story where actions, objects or events suddenly snap into place.

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Foreshadowing in The Shining

How Stories Critique the Powerful

The Boys is a Critique the Rich and Powerful
The Boys is a Critique the Rich and Powerful

Determining the best episode of a TV show like The Boys is subjective and dependent on individual preferences. Season 2, Episode 8, titled What I Know, however, is in my opinion, one of the standout episodes of the season. But its real value lies less in its ability to entertain and more in the subtextual critique it levels against powerful individuals and corporations who seek to control us under the guise of looking after us.

The episode unveils several key events, including the revelation of Stormfront’s true identity and nefarious past, Butcher’s confrontation with Homelander, and Starlight’s decision to expose Vought’s corruption. More importantly, it delves into the universal themes of accountability, justice, and the consequences of unchecked power.

One of the chief lessons to be extracted from the subtext of What I Know, and from the series as a whole, is the importance of standing up against injustice and corruption in the face of overwhelming power. This is particularly pertinent today: As the world’s population becomes increasingly aware through the proliferation of social media channels, of government, corporate and individual corruption, shows such as The Boys become thinly-veiled instruments of critique and parody against unfettered power, and as such are worthy of study.

Characters like Starlight, Butcher, Hughie and others, demonstrate courage and resilience as they confront powerful individuals and corporations which are supported by politicians and state machinery, all of whom seek to control society for their own advantage. The hopeful message here is how the few can stand up against the tyranny of the powerful and the corrupt.

The What I Know episode suggests that individuals do indeed have the ability to make a difference, even in a world dominated by the most powerful superhumans. By taking a stand against the lies and coverups, Starlight, as a Supe herself, acts as a kind of moral compass, against coverups of excessive and violent actions. She demonstrates that morally centred individuals can challenge authority by attempting to reveal the truth behind the corruption, even though she may ultimately fail. Good can defeat evil, even if the good is often less than perfect in itself.

The broader irony here is that both the political Left and Right, in the real world, can point to narrative events in the series in order to critique their opposition. Huge pharmaceutical corporations tasked with saving lives in the face of global pandemics are food for parody here under the guise of compound V, as both sides of the political spectrum have argued for and against the efficacy of restrictive mandates, and the like.

Which brings us to the power and utility of accomplished storytelling: it contains a connotative layer underneath its external or denotative meaning, which allows it to speak across social, political, and historical boundaries, remaining relevant beyond specific moments in time.

Stories can be used as a Trojan Horse of critique, highlighting the corruption, lies and tyranny of the rich and powerful.

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The Art of the Hook: Crafting Compelling Stories!

How The Boys uses the hook
How The Boys uses the hook

Today, we’re learning about how to hook readers and audiences into stories, drawing from episodes from The Boys.

1: Immediate Intrigue

A strong hook doesn’t just grab attention; it sets the stage for the entire story. It grabs the audience’s attention from the very beginning, leaving them eager for more. In Season 1, Episode 1 the shocking death of Robin sets the tone for The Boys, instantly hooking viewers with its unexpected and tragic twist.

2: Unexpected Events

But it’s not just what happens in your story; it’s who it happens to that truly captivates your audience. Introduce unexpected events or revelations that challenge viewers’ expectations and drive curiosity. In Season 1, Episode 4 the revelation of the Nazi origins of Compound V, the Superhero juice, flips the superhero genre on its head, injecting fresh intrigue into the narrative and prompting viewers to question everything they thought they knew.

3: Character Introduction

Introduce compelling characters that resonate with audiences and compel them to invest in their journey. In Season 1, Episode 1 Hughie’s relatable struggle and tragic loss immediately draws viewers into his world, setting the emotional foundation for the series.

4: Tension Building

Tension is the lifeblood of storytelling, driving the narrative forward and keeping the audience engaged. Build tension early by establishing conflicts and obstacles that hint at larger confrontations to come. In Season 2, Episode 1 the escalating tensions between The Boys and The Seven create a palpable sense of anticipation, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats.

5: Moral Confusion

Incorporating moral complexity adds depth to your story, elevating it from mere entertainment to thought-provoking commentary. Explore the moral ambiguity and complexity in your own characters to challenge viewers’ perceptions and provoke thought. In Season 2, Episode 6 the revelation of Stormfront’s true nature forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths about power and privilege, adding depth to the story and its characters.

6: Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing hints at future events and developments, enticing viewers to stick around for what’s to come. In Season 1, Episode 6 the disappearance of Butcher’s wife foreshadows a larger conspiracy at play, teasing viewers with the promise of future revelations and twists.


Crafting compelling hooks is the key to drawing your audience into your story and keeping them invested until the very end.

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The Brilliance of Subtext

Brilliant subtext in No Country for Old Men.
Brilliant subtext in No Country for Old Men.

Today, we’re studying the art of subtext by dissecting a scene from the film masterpiece, No Country for Old Men. This film, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a treasure chest of storytelling techniques, but one scene in particular stands out as a masterclass in the use of subtext.

The subtext of the coin-toss scene demonstrates how one’s destiny depends on random chance, much like the flip of a coin. Anton Chigurh, stops for petrol at an off-the-beaten path gas station, while in pursuit of stolen drug money. Let’s break down why this scene is a brilliant example of subtext mastery.

  1. The Coin-Toss as a Symbol: The use of the coin-toss symbolises the arbitrary nature of life and death. Chigurh‘s stop at the small shop/fuelling station is by random chance, but what ensues has potentially deadly consequences for the shopkeeper. The audience is captivated by the suspenseful coin flip, mirroring the unpredictability of life. The subtext lies in the power dynamics at play, where a simple coin flip becomes the arbiter of a man’s fate.
  2. Chigurh’s Unsettling Oddness: Anton Chigurh, brilliantly played by Javier Bardem, brings his unsettling presence to the scene. His lack of emotion amplifies the tension, creating an enigmatic figure whose actions are dictated by an internal code. This subtextual layer adds complexity to the narrative.
  3. Power Dynamics and Control: The subtext here is in the subtle power struggle between Chigurh and the shop owner—in the question and answer game and the implied threat in Chigurh’s tone. The coin-toss becomes a metaphor for the larger power dynamics at play, illustrating how control can be deceptively veiled. The audience is left on edge as they witness the fragility of human agency in the face of an unstoppable force.
  4. An Undercurrent of Existential Dread: As the shop keeper begins to comprehend the gravity of the situation, the subtext evolves into a chilling exploration of existential dread. The scene forces us to confront the inevitability of mortality and the fragility of our existence. Every word and action is layered with profound meaning, leaving the audience with a lingering sense of unease.
  5. Minimalism and Silence: The power of this subtext is amplified by the Coen Brothers’ deliberate use of minimalism and silence. The scarcity of words enhances the impact of every gesture and expression, creating a palpable tension that grips the viewer. The audience is left hanging on every nuance, deciphering the unsaid through the artful interplay of visuals and sounds.

The coin-toss scene, then, stands as a testament to the power of subtext in storytelling. The use of a simple coin-toss becomes a metaphorical event upon which the fate of a character balances, laden with layers of meaning. As writers, we can draw inspiration from the meticulous craftsmanship of this scene, learning how to weave subtext into our stories with precision and purpose.


The coin-toss scene in No Country for Old Men is a testament to the power of subtext in storytelling.

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The end of an era.

Tony Soprano
Tony Soprano: the prototypical antihero.

Today, we examine the intense but subtly-crafted family dinner scene from the last season of The Sopranos, a scene that caps the looming threat of assassination hovering over Tony Soprano.

This iconic scene has much to teach us about the art crafting an almost unbearable sense of the trepidation through context, subtle cues, camera placement, timing and nuanced performances. It is proof of why we should study masterpieces, especially when compared to much of today’s fare

1. Backstory

Before we dive into the dinner scene, let’s set the stage. The events leading up to this moment have been filled with tension. The news that Tony has visited a psychiatrist, has weakened his position with the mob who frowns on such things. Tony and the families are at loggerheads, his leadership with his own people is shaky—members of his crew have been shot—notably Silvio, his consigliere, mobsters are turning State’s evidence, a hit has been put out on Tony himself, and the FBI is closing in, using wire-taps. There is a sense that an era is coming to an end.

Now, let’s focus in on the dinner scene itself.

2. Creating an Uneasy Atmosphere

Even before the family gathers at the restaurant, then, the atmosphere is charged with tension. Tony arrives alone, which emphasises his isolation. Moments later he is joined by his wife. As they wait for their children to join them our anxiety grows. There is a jingle at the door and his son enters. Then we see Meadow pull up in her car outside the restaurant. As she struggles to park the vehicle our unease increases: All this waiting seems to imply that something bad is about to happen.

The camera work and framing, too, heighten our sense of discomfort. Long, lingering shots on the characters’ faces and the careful choreography of their movements keeps us on edge.

Tony’s glances towards the entrance every time someone enters, too, contribute to the feeling that something ominous is about to unfold. We become acutely aware that the sanctuary of family is no refuge from the ever-present threat to Tony’s life.

3. Vulnerability Through Setting

The very act of siting down to eat with his family in a public place, unarmed and exposed, creates a visceral sense of vulnerability: Meal time is when families are at their most relaxed, when their guard is down. Here, however, it brings to mind the many assassinations we have heard about, or watched in documentaries, or in films and TV series, such as when Joe Gallo was shot dead at Umbertos Clam House in Manhattan’s Little Italy in 1972, or when Carmine Galante was killed in 1979 while having lunch at Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant, and of course the shocking assassination scene in The Godfather where Michael Corleone shoots Sollozzo and McCluskey. This awareness augments our feeling of unease.

4. Potential Threats from Patrons

Adding another layer to the tension is the very presence of the patrons at the restaurant, anyone of whom may pose a threat to Tony. Their very presence and proximity to Tony becomes a source of anxiety both for Tony and for the audience. When one of the patrons goes to the men’s room we are reminded of how Michael Corleone retrieved the gun from the men’s room that he was to use to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey.

Specific incidents, such as a seemingly innocent conversation or a lingering look, take on a heightened significance. Viewers are left to decipher the true intentions behind these interactions, amplifying the suspense as we question who may be plotting against Tony. The dinner scene transforms into a psychological battlefield, with every gesture and word hinting at a potential danger, whether real or imagined.

And so we are left hanging on the edge of uncertainty. The meticulously crafted tension, the symbolic undertones, and the enigmatic presence of potential threats create a narrative powder keg.

The culmination of the final episode, then, masterfully uses the family restaurant setting to create a sense of doom that keeps us guessing. The screen going black just as Meadow is finally about to enter the restaurant symbolises our worst fears.


The Sopranos culminates in a final scene that creates a feeling of impending doom by creating a sense of vulnerability, unease, and evokeing the death of an era. We feel that Tony’s life, perhaps even that of his family’s, is over. That it does so without showing his murder speaks to the craft and subtlety of the writers.

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Five ways to strengthen your endings

One of the most shocking endings ever.
One of the most shocking endings ever.

Today, we’re unveiling the secrets of how to write gripping story endings using none other than the cinematic masterpiece, Seven. We take a close look into the world of Detective Somerset, Detective Mills, and the relentless antagonist, John Doe, as we extract five guiding principles that will add to your storytelling skills.

1. Establish compelling, contrasting characters.
In Seven, the characters aren’t just investigators; they’re intricately woven personalities. Somerset, the seasoned detective on the brink of retirement, contrasts sharply with Mills, the young and idealistic newcomer. Similar to Unforgiven where the characters’ past and present reputations heighten the stakes, the distinct traits of Somerset and Mills in Seven set the stage for a terrifying finale. Somerset’s intellect clashes with Mills’ zeal, creating a dynamic that propels the story towards a frightening conclusion.

2. Escalate the tension.
Seven simmers with tension from the opening credits. The gruesome crimes committed by John Doe escalate in savagery, pushing the audience to the edge. As a writer, escalate the stakes in your story to tighten the grip on your audience. Like Unforgiven, where the suspense increases with each obstacle Munny faces, Seven thrives on the mounting tension as Doe’s plan begins to manifest itself. Each crime scene intensifies the urgency for Somerset and Mills to solve the case. This sets the stage for the explosive climax.

3. Deploy unexpected twists.
The film subverts expectations, leading the audience down a dark and twisted path. The revelation of John Doe’s ultimate plan shocks and unsettles, leaving an indelible mark on us all. Like in Unforgiven where Little Bill’s brutality surprises us, Seven challenges the audience’s assumptions. As a writer, utilise the unexpected: Turn the familiar on its head in order to keep your audience guessing and engaged until the very end.

4. Deploy character change.
In Seven, the characters undergo change: Mills, initially the optimistic rookie, grapples with the harsh realities of the world, and Somerset, on the verge of retirement, finds renewed purpose in his pursuit of justice. Unforgiven, too, shows how Munny’s journey has changed him—from a ruthless killer, to a pig farmer who cannot stay on his horse, and back to a ruthless killer. Mills’ descent into darkness, and Somerset’s acknowledgment of the complexities of life deepen the story. As a writer, ensure that your characters change, prompted by challenges that shape their destinies.

5. Use powerful settings.
Seven’s climax unfolds in the eerie den of John Doe. The environment becomes a character, shaping the outcome of the final confrontation. Much like in Unforgiven, where the saloon intensifies the showdown, Seven strategically places the characters in a setting that amplifies the stakes. Leverage the settings in your own writing to enhance the emotional impact of your story’s conclusion.

Crafting a great story ending, then, is an art, a delicate game between characters, tension, twists, growth, and setting. Use this in your own writing to greatly improve your endings.


Great endings contain compelling and contrasting characters, tension, unexpected twists, character growth, and powerful settings.

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How many characters do you really need in your story?

Character selection in Inception
Character selection in Inception

How do you know how many characters you need to tell a story? And how do you select them?

Some writers turn to Joseph Campbell’s eight character archetypes for inspiration, but in multiform narratives, like Inception, such an approach may not align seamlessly.

But is there an alternative model that avoids seat-of-the-pants casting?

Indeed there is. Let’s remember that each major character serves a specific structural purpose, such as offering a unique perspective on the story’s theme.

In Inception, the protagonist, Dom Cobb, grapples with the nature of reality within dreams. Each major character represents a different angle on this theme.

Arthur, Cobb’s ally, views dreams as a strategic playground. His perspective is: Mastering the architecture of dreams leads to success in the mind heist.

On the contrary, Mal, Cobb’s deceased wife, a projection of Cobb’s mind—but a character never the less, believes in the dream world. Her character represents a warning: The pursuit of an idealised reality within dreams can lead to destructive consequences.

Eames, the forger, offers yet another viewpoint, arguing that dreams are a canvas for transformation. For Eames, the theme might be: Embracing change within dreams allows for personal growth and evolution.

Additionally, Ariadne, the architect, offers a perspective centered on understanding the subconscious. Her theme might be: Knowing how to navigate the uncharted depths of the mind is essential for a successful inception.

All these characters earn their place by articulating their versions of the theme through words and actions, shaping the narrative. The resolution of the conflict in Inception ultimately reveals which character championed the correct interpretation of the theme.

Taking a cue from Christopher Nolan’s approach, the film crafts a complex moral lesson by juxtaposing characters whose actions and beliefs are a kind of debate over the theme of the story. The outcome at the end transforms the theme into the moral essence of the film, uncovering its ultimate form.


Include only as many major characters as is necessary to explore and argue the theme effectively. This ensures that each character contributes significantly to the tale, avoiding the inclusion of superfluous players whose presence is merely cosmetic.

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