Thursday 5 January 2012

Five openings to avoid like the plague

I like lists and here's another from the lovely Lucy V. Hay of Write Here, Right Now. A list of five clichéd, bad or just plain dull openers.

What does she mean by "opener"? Not the entire first page, just the first image on the the first page. This should give a reader a sense of the tone of the story. Don't be vague or distracting. You have one shot at this, so make it count. In particular, DON'T trot out one of these:
5. The mirror. So... we have a FACE in a MIRROR. It's your main character, considering their own REFLECTION! Nice! It gives us the impression they have some kind of problem and aren't shallow Hollywood-type characters. Right?? Um, no. It's just boring. Particularly seen with female characters and dramas.

4. The windscreen wipers. The windscreen wipers, going full pelt as rain comes down might be atmospheric, but it's huuuuugely overdone in supernatural thrillers and horror. And weirdly, these wipers/rain are rarely connected to the problem that comes next - ie. an accident that propels the characters into the conflict, so the reader is left wondering: "Why start here with THIS image?"

3. Walking. This one - walking feet, usually on a pavement - can turn up in ANY genre. So your character's walking down the street. Yeah man: this is one cool dude. He's waaaaaaallking! Note to self writers: walking down the street gives the reader very little clue *about* your character. REALLY. Yes, that includes if he's meandering, striding, ambling, WHATEVER. Please stop it! Introduce us to your character doing something INTERESTING. If that *includes* walking, then great, but don't make walking the FOCUS 'cos it's DULL.

2. Alarm clocks. So here we go... Tick, tick, BOOM: alarm goes and character's hand appears, slamming the alarm. We then proceed to see said character get ready for the day. OMG REALLY?? This has been around for yeeeeeeeeears and though it *is* receding at last, it still pops up with enough annoying regularity to make me want to stab myself in the leg with a fork. The biggest offender here is comedy, but the alarm clock *could* turn up as a first image in just about ANY genre, particularly spec TV pilots.

1. Blackness. This has popped up in earnest in the last two to three years that I've noticed. Basically we start with a BLACK SCREEN. That's right! No first image AT ALL. Usually there is a voice-over the top, sometimes a sound effect, sometimes both. And what's wrong with that? Nothing really - it *could* be okay, but its main issue is its ubiquity. It is EVERYWHERE: spec TV pilots, features, shorts, you name it. 
Okay, there's still time to rewrite that opening. What would make for an interesting image... ?


Kathy said...

"Introduce us to your character doing something INTERESTING"

Why does the best advice sound so simple and be so hard?

Rob Robinson said...

I love moving wheels as an opening, ie A Big Country, Bridge at Remagen, not used much today but it suggests action and that we are headed in some direction?

Anonymous said...

I try to open all of my screenplays from the POV of the interior of a mouth looking out. That way we always know we're in the dentist's office. All of my screenplays open at the dentist's office. That's not true, "This Bites" and "Food of the Gods" opened at the dentist, "Crown of Thorns" was more of an intellectual romp without a setting.

Anonymous said...

Baby's feet running through the woods. Two pairs.