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The Do's and Don'ts When Writing Opening Scenes

Screenwriting is an ever-growing field with people becoming interested in where they should begin their journey into the endeavor. As with countless other fields, novice screenwriters tend to wonder what they should and shouldn’t do, with a comprehensive list of pointers and tips to help them along the way.

Considering the opening scene of a script is arguably the most crucial page of the entire script as it has to interest readers right away, the opening scene may seem like a massive hurdle to get over. Fortunately enough, there are plenty of ways for screenwriters to perfect their opening scenes.

Down below, we’re going to discuss the do’s and don’ts when writing opening scenes, allowing you to know what you and shouldn’t do with the beginning of your scripts. Keep in mind, there is plenty of other information available to allow you to further your knowledge in this realm. Still, this overall guide should help you get started.

Still from 'Forrest Gump'. Photo credit: Ars Technica

The Do’s

As discussed, we’re going to begin with a few musts, also known as the do’s for you to make a note of for your script. Considering knowing what you should do is arguably more important and worthwhile writing-wise than what you shouldn’t, it’s always worthwhile to bring this up first.

Start with Conflict

Conflict is arguably the single component to any great script that keeps the reader interested and allows it to progress forward. A script without any sort of conflict, whether it’s internal, external, or more abstract, isn’t a useful script. Figure out a way to start with conflict, even if it’s in an introductory way.

Start with the Story, Not the Backstory

Although you might’ve seen some films get away with beginning with the backstory, this tends to be a no-no in the minds of expert screenwriters. Plus, your story may not even need a backstory, but if it does, figure out a way to avoid the backstory until later. Also, remember that overusing flashbacks means you tend to have a poor story.

Introduce the Protagonist or Antagonist

Generally speaking, when someone is reading a script for the first time, they want to know who the main character is right away. Rather than wait for the character who they’re rooting for or against, it’s always worthwhile to begin with your protagonist or antagonist right away. Whether it’s the opening scene of The Dark Knight with the Joker, or Forrest Gump with Forrest sitting on a bench, either will do.

Set the Tone

If you tell someone the script you handed them is a comedy, they’re going to want to see a comedy’s tone fairly quickly. No matter what your script’s genre is, be sure to get into the script’s tone sooner, rather than later, as it’ll go a long way with helping the overall mood of your script.

The Don’ts

As great as it is to be aware of what you should do while writing the opening scene of your script, it’s equally as important to know what you shouldn’t do. Thus, we have a similar section in length for the don’ts. Remember, there are plenty of other points you shouldn’t do with your opening scene, but this should help you out, nonetheless.

Don’t Open with Scenery or Use an Excessive Amount of Adjectives

Talented writers who begin their journey into the screenwriting world tend to use an excessive number of adjectives and overly descriptive language in their scripts. As great as this might be from a writing-perspective, scripts shouldn’t read like books. If you hear a professional tell you your script reads like a book, cut-down on the scenery and let it flow simpler.

Don’t Open with a Flashback

Although some films open with a flashback, and it might work in some cases, generally speaking, you should try to avoid opening with a flashback as it doesn’t paint a good enough picture for the film overall. For example, any Batman film tends to not open up with Bruce Wayne losing his parents; that’d be a bit much, right?

Don’t Tell the Backstory Right Away

Similar to opening with a flashback, try not to tell the backstory right away. Now, you can do a nice narration or something similar that discusses the backstory within a few scenes, but make sure the opening scene is something totally separate. Give a taste of the story and then go to the backstory if you insist.

Don’t Begin with Too Many Characters

Even if your script is about multiple characters and their journey together, such as Stand By Me, try not to have all of them at once and focus on one or two of them first. For example, once Stand By Me gets back into the story of Gordie, you see him walking alone in his small town, highlighting the scenery and setting of the story while introducing us to our main character. As a rule, try not to have more than three characters in an opening scene.


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