How to Create a Good Opening Scene

The first scene is crucial because it serves several purposes:

  • It defines the tone and genre of the story
  • It foreshadows the ending
  • It starts the story

Watch any horror movie and the first scene always hints at something ominous. In the first scene of “Get Out,” a black man wanders through a neighborhood when a strange car follows him. Right away we know “Get Out” isn’t going to be a comedy or romance.

Strangely, many horror writers often start their story by hiding the fact that they’re writing a horror story because they want to surprise the audience.

Don’t do that because it won’t work.

People don’t want to think they’re watching a romantic comedy only to discover that it turns into a horror story later. Your opening scene must let us know what the story is about.

A second purpose of the opening scene is to foreshadow the ending. It does no good to show an action-packed scene only to have that action-packed scene play absolutely no part in the rest of the story.

In “The Flash,” the Flash has to rescue babies falling out a window as a hospital collapses. Meanwhile, Batman is busy chasing down a criminal who has stolen some dangerous biological weapons. Notice that these dangerous biological weapons have nothing to do with the rest of the story so it’s a complete waste of time.

In “Get Out,” the opening scene gives us a hint that a black man can be targeted as a victim. Only later do we realize the full extent of how much a black man can be a victim.

More importantly, the opening scene gets the story started. In “Die Hard,” John McClane lands in Los Angeles on a flight from New York. That gets the story going because his whole purpose is to reunite with his wife at her corporate Christmas party in a Los Angeles skyscraper.

In “Get Out,” the opening scene shows the threat facing the hero, which is that he’s being targeted to become the next victim of a horrifying plot.

In your screenplay, examine your opening scene and ask yourself, does it get the story started? Does it define the tone and genre of the story? Does it foreshadow the ending? If not, you may need to rewrite your opening scene because your opening scene will be the first scene anyone reads so it better be great.

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