Everyone knows the rule: Your first few pages need to grab the reader. But as a writer looking for a way in the industry, your first scenes MUST POP! An exec who reads everything under the sun doesn’t want to see a character go through their morning routine unless it serves the story. Because guess what, they’ve read 10 other scripts like that and they’re laying at the bottom of a trash can. Having a great opening will not only give you a better chance of a full read, but you’ll also stand up against the scripts of seasoned writers, who execs will trust way more than someone they’ve never heard of. So, if you’re struggling with crafting a great opening that’ll get you closer to your professional writing goals here are some tips that’ll help you get your baby right.
Create an opening that serves YOUR Story:
Every opening isn’t meant for every story. DO NOT start your lovey dovey romance with a car chase shootout thinking you’ll dupe an exec into a full read. Because once they flip the page and see that ACT 2 has nothing to do with that car chase, your script will hit the bottom of that trash can in record time. Crack open the script of your favorite movie for whatever genre you're writing in. See how they crafted their opening, understand why you loved it, and see how you can create something like that in an original way that’ll serve your unique story.
Set The Stage:
A great opening sets the tone, genre, empathizes your hero/s, and puts us in the world that your protagonists and antagonist live in. A perfect example of this comes from the film IT COMES AT NIGHT.
It opens with an old man’s dying face in the camera while his daughter consoles him in the BG saying You don’t have to fight anymore. You’d think we're in Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, but as the camera pans out, we see the daughter in a gas mask inside a house with plastic-covered walls. They then put the dad in a wheelbarrow, take him outside, cover him in a sheet, shoot him, dump him in a hole, and LIGHT HIM ON FIRE! If Meridith Grey did some sh*t like that, she’d be in jail and ABC would have to find a new lead.
In that opening they covered:
AND created empathy and justified our hero's/antagonist’s actions for survival in the first few minutes!
Understanding your story as a whole is vital to the success of your opening and without it, you won’t be able to set the stage of your story and your script will get shot down before it ever takes flight. So before you type a word in Final Draft, make sure you understand every nook and cranny of your story so you can set the stage for the ride you're trying to take us on.
So don’t wait till page 28 to kick things into high gear. Or hope the exec keeps reading so they can get to that emotionally gripping scene on page 74. Because guess what? That exec will never look at your baby again. But, if you study the openings you love and craft your own based off what you’ve learned, you’ll stand out from the competition and get closer to kickstarting your screenwriting career!
Wanna learn screenplay structure from The Professional Pen? Click here to take the leap.
-Written by Collin Shaw
Shannan E. Johnson, CEO