Set the Tone Early

The opening scene should summarize the story in a nutshell, although initially we may not understand what’s going on. The opening scene in “Rocky” shows Rocky getting beaten up in a boxing match in a grungy arena. Rocky is losing but when the other boxer heats, Rocky gets mad and fights back, ultimately winning. That summarizes the entire story of “Rocky” in that one opening scene.

In “A United Kingdom,” the opening scene is also a boxing match between the black hero and a white boxer. Although the black hero is losing, he’s fighting back until the white boxer cheats and head butts the hero, knocking him out. That opening scene shows how the black hero is at a disadvantage and risks getting treated unfairly for no other reason than he’s black, and that sums up the entire story of the black hero constantly struggling against people who discriminate against him because he’s black.

The opening scene in “Star Wars” shows one starship (Darth Vader’s) shooting and ultimately disabling another starship (Princess Leia’s). Although we don’t know what’s going on, this opening scene hints that the entire story is about battles in space.

Watch a good movie and you’ll see that the opening scene summarizes the entire story in a subtle way. Watch a bad movie and you’ll see that the opening scene often doesn’t match the rest of the story in any way.

The opening scene must serve two purposes. First, it must summarize the entire story. Second, it must mirror the ending by showing the change from the hero’s situation in the beginning to the end.

In “Rocky,” the opening fight shows Rocky fighting in a dingy arena with almost nobody watching. In the end, Rocky must fight for the championship in Madison Square Garden in front of a national TV audience.

In “A United Kingdom,” the opening scene shows the black hero being unfairly treated because he’s black. In the end, the black hero finally triumphs despite being black.

In “Star Wars,” the opening scene shows Darth Vader capturing Princess Leia’s starship. In the end,┬áPrincess Leia’s forces are attacking Darth Vader while Darth Vader is trying to wipe out the rebel base once and for all.

When planning your story, think about the opening scene carefully. Make it summarize the entire story and make sure it mirrors the ending to show how the hero starts in one situation but changes in the end.

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