WRITING OPENING SCENES THAT ARE GRABBERS


My next entry in issues I’ve noticed while reading screenplays for various competitions this year: writing openings that are real grabbers.   This has been a topic that has often come up in discussions on blogs, facebook pages, etc.  Many people have suggested that a writer should open with a scene that is a real grabber, something that will immediately arrest the attention such that the reader will just have to keep on reading to find out what is going on.  In fact, this has been so suggested by so many gurus and other screenplay experts (and non-experts) that more and more people are doing it.   And I mean, more and more and more.  Now, I’m not telling you not to do this.  If you really think it benefits your screenplay, then do it.  But I do suggest you think twice about doing it just because you think you need to in order to get that reader’s immediate attention.  Why?  Well, because everyone is doing it.  And if I read fifty to sixty screenplays a week and more than half are opening with a “grabber” scene, then opening with such a scene no longer makes your screenplay stand out.  It’s just another screenplay with a “grabber” scene as an opening.  Something can’t really stand out if everybody is doing it.  And because so many people are doing it, it’s becoming a cliché with the danger that it could actually be a real turnoff (a reader quite possibly thinking, “Oh, another script that opens with a grabber; not much originality here”).   Two of the most common ways to start with a “grabber” is a dream showing someone in danger and an event that will reappear somewhere else during the screenplay itself (i.e., letting the reader know what the plot is leading up to).  But the someone in danger dream is getting to be the most clichéd way to start a story and as for the event that will reappear, well, just to let you know, most readers will have forgotten the opening event long before it reappears, so the effectiveness of that sort of opening tends to get lost.  The one overall issue a writer should consider here is that looking at the screenplay from this perspective (that a screenplay needs to start with a grabber not because it fulfills the author’s vision, but only in order to grab a reader’s attention) generally means that the author is putting structure ahead of character which, except on rare occasions, is the death knell of an effective screenplay.
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