The opening of your story needs to grab the audience right away. The opening scene sets the tone, defines the main conflict (even if we don’t know it initially), introduces us to the story setting, and makes us want to know what’s going on.
One less common way to open a story is with a quote. In “Kill Bill,” a quote appears on the screen:
“Revenge is a dish best served cold
— Old Klingon Proverb
Even though we don’t know it yet, this quote already defines the whole conflict of “Kill Bill.” Quotes set the tone of the story and then let us watch to see how this quote makes sense.
In “The Hurt Locker,” two quotes initially appear:
“The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”
— Chris Hedges, WAR IS A FORCE THAT GIVES US MEANING
“The worst imaginable news: war thrives because enough men still love it.”
Both quotes define the conflict of “The Hurt Locker,” which is about a hero addicted to the adrenaline rush of defusing bombs to the extent that he’ll even abandon his family because he finds family life too boring compared to the thrill of combat.
Even if your screenplay won’t open with a quote, consider finding a quote anyway. The quote may not appear in your screenplay, but it can help define and focus your thoughts when you’re writing. Too often screenwriters come up with a good idea but when they write, they forget their main idea and create all sorts of subplots and characters that look interesting in that particular scene, but don’t support the main theme of your story. The end result is a jumbled mess that either gets cut before you submit the screenplay, or gets cut during filming. In either case, it’s a waste of time. In the worse case scenario, the jumbled mess gets made as part of the movie, which weakens the overall movie.
Come up with a quote for your own benefit, and keep that quote taped to the side of your computer monitor when you write so you always keep your main theme in mind as you write. The more each word of your screenplay contributes to your story’s theme, the stronger your screenplay will be. The less each word of your screenplay focuses on the story’s theme, the less focused and more confusing your screenplay will be.
A good story makes one point only, and a quote helps you keep that one point in mind as you write. Find a quote that embodies your story’s theme and make it part of your screenplay or just part of your own notes. With the right quote, you can stay focused and on track so you write the best screenplay possible.