A few words on beginnings.
I’ve recently started writing a new script (in collaboration, too, which is a whole other “new”), and as such I’ve been thinking about starting.
I have to plan things out before I start writing; I can’t just blank-page it, otherwise I waffle for ages and ages and just go round in circles. But even with a scene breakdown and full synopsis, and character bios and histories, and ideas for sequels and all sorts going round my head, and an entire fictional universe for this New Story, writing the first scene is always arduous.
Firstly, there’s the characters; they haven’t lived yet, I haven’t played about with them, so I don’t know what they sound like. Even if I think I know all there is to know about them, it usually turns out that they all speak in a certain way, and it takes a while to find out how. Then there’s the rhythm of the scene, the flow: how this opening plays into the rest of the story. Is it too fast, too slow? Does it go anywhere? Does it set up things that don’t pay off, or should it highlight future plot points? And does it end up feeling just wrong, against the tone and pace of the rest of the script; once it’s all finished and the regular rhythm is established, does the top just not quite fit?
Generally speaking, I always hate my first scenes. It’s always the thing I re-write the most. When I go back after having finished, it always makes me cringe to read the beginning again. And openings are so important: you have to grab people instantly; you have to set up the world and the people that inhabit it, you have to make everyone and everything interesting and make the audience want to stick around for the rest of the running time.
I think the main reason, though, why I don’t like first scenes, is that it’s a stark reminder that there’s a thing here that I wrote, and I’m expecting people to like it. Out of nothing, there’s all of a sudden the start of a story. Once I get into it, I tend to like what I’ve written (otherwise, what would be the point?), but that cold opening? Those words that I imagine ring heavy with a variety of truths, my attempts at humour and empathy and three-dimensional characterisation? I just think everyone will see through it and realise it’s clunky and rubbish and derivative and not funny at all.
Endings, on the other hand? Endings I love to write.