Notes from a Screenreader

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photo via Go Into the Story

A vast majority of spec scripts submitted to competitions open with mundane images.

It seems like a logical choice. Establishing normal life is an explicit instruction in many structure templates. Filmmakers often open with shots of unremarkable details. That is misleading to writers. It’s one thing to watch eggs frying and hands tying neckties in mirrors, but it is a world of Proustian hurt to read pages of familiar things meticulously described.

You can make a reader eat right out of your hand with an opening engineered to make them pay attention.

  • Show inside knowledge, preferably in action. Give readers a backstage pass by revealing a trick of a trade, a behind the scenes peek, a lifestyle out of the mainstream.
  • Lie. Give the reader a strong impression of a character or situation, then reveal it was false. If you can fool them, they will love you.
  • Create questions. Set your characters in motion without explanation. Hidden motives pique curiosity.
  • Be unique. If you have ever seen it running under credits before, give it a twist. 

The opening is your grand entrance to the ballroom. Please do not use that opportunity to describe loading the dishwasher.

-ANNIE LABARBA @annelabarba

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