The two earliest scenes in any screenplay must introduce the hero and the villain. In some movies, the villain gets introduced first such as in “Star Wars” where we meet Darth Vader first and then Luke. Sometimes the hero gets introduced first such as in “Die Hard” where we meet John McClane first before meeting Hans and his army of terrorists.
It doesn’t matter which order you introduce your hero and villain. Just make sure you introduce both early so audiences have a clue on what the story’s about. When introducing the hero, the scene must do the following:
- Show who the hero is
- Make the hero likable and sympathetic
- Show the hero’s goal
First, we must know who the hero is and that means showing us the hero in a typical day that’s not really a typical day. In “Die Hard,” the scene introducing the hero shows him arriving in Los Angeles on an airplane. That’s not his typical day and to make this scene more interesting, it also shows him terrified of flying.
In “La La Land,” the opening scene introducing the heroes shows them stuck in traffic. That’s normally a regular day in Los Angeles, but it’s different because of the singing and dancing on the freeway.
Besides showing who the hero is, the early scene introducing the hero must also make the hero likable so we’ll root for the hero. This can be done in three ways:
- Showing the hero’s weaknesses
- Showing the hero doing the right thing by helping someone less fortunate
- Showing the hero as a victim
In “Die Hard,” we see that the hero is afraid of flying. By showing someone vulnerable, it makes us feel more sympathetic to that person.
In “Aladdin,” the hero (Aladdin) steals bread but when he sees hungry children, he gives it to them instead.
In “The Karate Kid,” the hero moves to a new neighborhood and we feel sympathetic about his fear and confusion in a new world, but when he gets beat up by the villain, that makes us feel even more sympathetic to the hero.
Once we know who the hero is and feel sympathetic towards him or her, we next need a hint about the hero’s mentor. In “Star Wars,” Luke talks about Old Ben who lives out in the desert. In “Die Hard,” the hero reveals his gun to a passenger and says he’s a cop. That indirectly references the hero’s mentor (Officer Powell) who will help the hero later. In “The Karate Kid,” the hero sees the apartment handyman who will become his mentor, although at first the hero (and the audience) thinks the mentor’s a little odd.
Introducing the hero is more than just showing us who the hero is. You must make the hero likable, show the hero’s goal, and hint about the hero’s mentor. That’s a lot of information to pack into a single scene when you introduce the hero but without all this information, the rest of your story won’t make much sense so it’s crucial that you get this information in as soon as possible so your story has a foundation to build upon later.