There are typically three ways to start a story:
- Show the hero
- Show the villain
- Show an earlier scene that somehow starts the story that may not involve the hero or villain
When a story starts with the hero, we need to know what the hero wants. Once we know what the hero wants, we won’t get to see the hero get this until the end. In “Die Hard,” John McClane wants to get back with his wife. This only happens at the end because once the hero gets what he or she wants, the story is over.
When a story starts with an earlier scene that may not involve either the hero or the villain, then it often provides greater understanding of how the story will ultimately get started. In “Black Panther,” a meteor containing vibranium crashes into Africa and that defines the first Black Panther and the advanced nation of Wakanda.
When a story starts with the villain, we must see that villain’s power right away. In “Star Wars,” we see Darth Vader’s power in catching and boarding Princess Leia’s starship. In “Crazy Rich Asians,” we see the villain’s power when she’s turned away from a luxury British hotel and then buys it so she can spend the night there.
Whichever way you start a story, make sure you get the initial crucial information out to the audience right away. With the hero, we need to know what the hero wants, even if it’s not clear right away. With the villain, we need to know the villain’s power even if we don’t know what the villain wants.
With an early scene without the hero or the villain, we need to understand the background of the story that will eventually take place.
Try experimenting with all three ways of starting your screenplay, then decide on the best opening. That means writing two scenes that you’ll eventually throw away, but that also means you’ll have the best opening scene possible for your story.