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Tips for Good Screenplay Beginnings

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/26/2010

Want to know how to start a good screenplay? Here are some tips on how to conceptualize and structure the beginning of a screenplay.

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    Saying Structure

    How to start a good screenplay Screenplays tend to be much more commonly structured than other literary forms, like the novel or poetry. The reason for this is that it has to be translated to another medium and there are very serious expectations from the audience that rely on this very specific format. This does not mean that there has to be a road map to how a screenplay is written, but screenplay format and screenplay structure does move beyond simple bibliographic rules. Part of what makes up the screenplay structure is how to set up a beginning, middle, and end, and this is somewhat common in most narratively structured screenplays. What makes a good screenplay beginning is not universal, but there are common elements that are going to help you structure your beginning when looking at how to start your screenplay. Here is a look into the screenplay beginnings and some tips to help you structure and develop it.

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    Identifying Characters

    The beginning in the screenplay is designed to accomplish a certain set of goals, so when you are considering how to start a good screenplay you really have to keep these in mind otherwise you are going to negate the purpose of this beginning.

    First, it is supposed to make the audience identify the main character, or characters, so that they will be able to follow them through the rest of the screenplay.

    Second, it is supposed to identify their main character needs and traits so that the audience has a relative idea of who they are and, in a sense, why they are going to be doing what they are doing. This does not mean that you have to leave everything open and spelled out, but they have to have a context so everything does not just seem out of place.

    The beginning is also where you are going to identify most of the main supporting characters that are going to work through the rest of the screenplay. Some characters show up in the second or third acts, but the main supporting characters should all be identified in the screenplay beginning so that we know how they are going to relate to the main character. We should essentially know this character, though they can still surprise us. We should have a basic idea about their character, their history, and their drive so that when they encounter the problem at the end of your screenplay beginning you will have an understanding of what they do. You may want to also write character biography when you are trying to figure how to start a screenplay. This is going to help you to create a clear idea of your main character, or characters, and will allow the beginning to move into the second act.

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    A Look at How to Start a Good Screenplay and Set Your Main ThemesWhen looking into how to start a screenplay you have to identify many of the things that are common to the beginnings of screenplays as well as things that you want to accomplish there. Here is a look at how to start a screenplay and what you can do to accomplish your goals and establish your themes.
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    The Problem

    The problem, as it could be called, is the driving element of the screenplay's story and the first thing you should consider when learning about how to start a good screenplay. In the screenplay's beginning you are going to identify a main problem or driving element that is then going to drive the main character through the rest of the story. This is actually much more difficult to identify than people think as most stories are not as cut and dry as the more conventional fables. One way to look at it is to say that we have the characters and we assume a normal course of events that take place before our story starts. The problem, which drives our story, is when things are made different for the characters in the story. They then must resolve this problem throughout the story, and this may end up changing them and their environment in a way that goes beyond the original problem. For example, our screenplay could be about a police officer. We are presented in the beginning of the screenplay with scenes that establish the police officer's character by showing him with his family, his friends, and his co-workers. Then we see that our police officer has been arrested under false charges, and now we have a problem. This problem has taken our character out of his standard life, which has already been presented, and now he must restore order. This is only one example, and others will likely be wildly different, but the main format of this is that there has to be something that is in disorder, whether it is positive or negative, that will force the character out of their standard structure.

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    Tighten

    One thing that often occurs when you are working on the beginning of a screenplay, or a written story in general, is that too much information is given and too many early scenes. This is usually done because you need to over write to identify the characters, motivations, and details so you know where you are going, but you still may to simplify. You may want to look back over your screenplay beginning and start shortening scenes and even eliminating them all together. Though it is by no means a rule, oftentimes you may want to just eliminate your first scene altogether as this may establish things that you do not need. You may want to look over your screenplay outline in this situation.

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    First Line

    The first line or lines of your screenplay will often outline the premise of the screenplay altogether, though it may not be the first thing you should consider when thinking about how to start a good screenplay. This will likely be a line of dialogue that will really hit the story on the head, though it should not be too obvious. Try to think how you could set the stage for the themes of your story right when you are beginning the screenplay structure.