Writing the First Scene


I love storytelling. However, I strongly dislike typing. Emails, instant messaging, reports and in a way scriptwriting are what we would call necessary evils. These steps are needed to inform our processes before moving to more civilised tools, such as a phone calls, face to face meetings, cameras, lights and other forms of witchcraft (actors. cinematographers, sound designers…).  Written words are slow, they can be held frozen before sharing. They allow for greater and more accurate reflection to occur.

Apparently, I might ‘suffer’ from what they have labeled ADD (I prefer the word ‘personality’ to ‘disorder’, anyway) and that aspect might contribute to my dislike of a task requiring attention and little external stimulation. I found myself with two feature film outlines to develop into first drafts over the next couple of months. Starting with the dreaded opening scenes, I can write them in parallel and hop my way through these drafts, alternating according to my mood and jumping interests.

Having sadly already covered all the research and development aspects for these ideas, I am left with typing the draft. Joy. I am tempted to jump to a simple scene, somewhere in the middle, one of those transition scenes, or maybe something that deals mainly with the characters in order to spend some more time with them before attacking the beginning.

First scenes can be tough to write. You want it all: setting the tone of the film, introducing the protagonist(s), establishing some kind of conflict and generating emotions that can capture the audience. The scope of the opening has to match the scope of the story, its world and inhabitants, yet be strong enough to compete in a world where attention span is short and content is often watched by people with their finger on the trigger to another ‘channel’. The opening, I feel, needs to also contrast with the following scene. This creates a strong transition into the film, almost making the opening a separate entity.


The first half page has to draw the reader in,  and not only address the future ‘watcher’. I sometimes forget scripts are read and wrongly focus solely on the audience. The reader has to be introduced to the world through mood and tone. Action has to throw the reader into the story and slowly bring him closer to our protagonists, theme or plot.

Tension is essential. Humans are wired to react and focus onto surrounding tension. iI is part of our survival mechanism. I avoid physical detail that does not directly support the tone. Keep it light and flowing as well as possible. Dialogue, if presents, is not dealing with the plot and seem to mainly attempt to expose characters and hopefully create a sense of curiosity. We need to create a question for the audience. Something they can hook to and focus their attention around.

When looking back at what I have written (and I really should not at this stage) I can see the two projects sharing significant aspects even though being significantly different (one is a family comedy, the other a post-apocalyptic-mind-twister). Tensions is present, in different forms, but always aimed at creating curiosity mainly through the use of sound. Visuals are mainly addressing tone and mood at first before moving to the protagonist and the action. Actions deal mainly with exposing characters more than addressing the plot. The jump with the following scene is strong and sudden. We move from brightness to darkness or vice versa.

Reading these scenes was a bad idea, as I am now tempted to continue to shape and edit them instead of moving forward. I might end up in a never ending loop of fake perfectionism. It’s good enough for now, more than enough. I look forward to discussing the future scenes and redrafts in future entries and sharing the ‘tools’ that help me, a guy who hates typing, getting through drafts and redrafts in reasonable amount of time.  We all know that good writing is rewriting and I cannot wait to change my ‘writing’ tools to something else than a keyboard.

4 responses to “Writing the First Scene

  1. > I am tempted to jump to a simple scene, somewhere in the middle, one of those transition scenes, or maybe something that deals mainly with the characters in order to spend some more time with them before attacking the beginning.

    I don’t understand… why don’t you? I never write the opening until last. I don’t know the character’s voices or motivations, except perhaps in broad strokes. Sometimes I even change my mind about the middle or ending of a story half-way through writing it and need to set things up differently.

    I just sketch the story out in the draft, and let those happy accidents happen in the process to fill out the story. During rewrites you can move scenes around, adjust pacing, and tweak plot points until the story flows, *then* go back and write the opening.

    I guess I must be doing something wrong or at least different because I never dread writing the opening because it means I’m almost finished.

  2. I doubt you are doing anything wrong. We all have different approach, and they are unlikely to be set in stone.

    Some of the language I used in this post is there to emphasise my ‘dislike’ of typing and the importance I place on openings. I do not truly dread this phase, I just find that it deserves more attention than other. I like to write the first draft from start to end, by this stage I have already mapped out the various aspects needed to fuel the writing. I know the story, characters, motivation, emotional map and theme. I know they will change later, but I feel I want to at least read that version of the story once.

    At the redraft, anything goes.

  3. Pingback: Anxiety and Boredom: Writers Block? Just type. | W(A/O)NDERING Filmmaking·

  4. Pingback: You Do Not Have to Write That Screenplay By Yourself | w(a/o)ndering filmmaking·

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