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Notes from a Screenreader: Where Do I Begin?

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

Your story has a beginning, a middle and an end but they don’t necessarily have to appear in that order. A good beginning has lots of things happening in it, things that make the reader curious about what’s going on. Once the reader is curious, they are hooked.

  • Don’t overwhelm with information. No matter when in the storyline you start the story, the reader needs much, much less information than you think. Focus on setting your stage with actions; they introduce characters and tone and genre much more efficiently than conversations do.
  • Don’t start before the start. Many structure models call for a “normal life” beginning, which leads to many spec scripts beginning with a very average “average day.” It’s not interesting, and it establishes very little. Consider an episode of Modern Family, every “average” situation includes a lot more than a trip to the grocery store.
  • Start with a glimpse of what makes your story different. Spec scripts tend to fall back on the familiar. If you’ve seen it, don’t copy it. After your second or third rewrite, you should have a handle on what sets this script apart. Open with an original riff on that.

There’s no time in your opening to spend on anything flat or predictable. Readers fall in love with scripts that open in an unexpected way.

— ANNIE LABARBA

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

(Edited on Sept. 17 at 1:37 pm EST.)

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nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

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