Your Screenplay Opening

A spec screenplay vs a production screenplay.

Screenplay Image via Wikipedia

Some screenwriters think that just about every screenplay should open with a bang of some kind: perhaps a literal explosion, or a murder, or a chase.

Those may well be good choices for certain stories, but my take on this is that what an opening actually needs to do is to prompt two questions and one feeling in your audience.

The questions are simple:

1. Who are these people?
2. What’s going on?

I’m not saying that your first scene has to answer these questions, just to raise them. They might be answered in the second scene or the third scene, or sometimes not until the very end in the case of a mystery.

The feeling should be some kind of emotional involvement. Often at this point it’s just curiosity but sometimes it’s sympathy—even when we don’t know who is being chased, usually our sympathy automatically goes to the one running away.

Sometimes it’s empathy—a character experiencing something that’s happened to us, too, so we relate. It could be somebody floundering at a job interview, or being asked for a date she obviously doesn’t want to go on, or somebody getting a big bill at a restaurant and realizing he’s lost his wallet.

I think checking whether your opening scene achieves this is a good way to tell whether or not it will grab the reader—and eventually the audience.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of TV, several TV movies, the feature film, “The Real Howard Spitz” starring Kelsey Grammer, and has been a script doctor on films starring Eddie Murphy, Kim Catrall, Michael Caine, Walter Matthau and others. His plays have been produced in New York, London, Berlin, and Los Angeles. He is the author of 9 books including “Your Writing Coach” and “Creativity Now.” If you would like to find out more about “The Seven Things That Are Stopping You From Writing And How To Overcome Them,” check out Jurgen’s screenwriting website: www.ScreenWritingSuccess.com