An ancient Chinese proverb says, “The longest journey begins with the first step.” and in many philosophical systems “endings and beginnings” are connected, like two sides of a coin. A good screenwriter must know the ways to illustrate this in their screenplays.
Whether you follow Syd Field’s three-act structure or any other arrangement to write your screenplay, your opening and endings are the most important parts of your script. And so here are 7 essential tips to create stunning beginnings and endings in your screenplay;
7 Important Screenplay writing Tips to Create Stunning Beginnings and Endings
- Create a Hook: This is what is going to sell your screenplay. What most writers do not realise is that before being turned into a film, their screenplays will have to pass somebody’s reading. And like any other piece of good literature, a screenplay must also be able to hook its reader within the first few pages. The first 5 pages of your screenplay are the most important part, as these are the pages that are going to tell the reader (the producer, director or an agent) whether they are going to invest in this story or not. Your job as a writer is to make your reader keep turning the pages. Every screenplay gets only 5-10 pages in the beginning to grab the attention of its reader. Nobody has time to ‘hope’ that you as a writer might have picked up the screenplay somewhere in the middle.
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- Bait: The best magic tricks are often the ones in which the audience think they know what is going on, but in the end, the magician pulls a smart one over them. You need to make your audience/realise that they are in control and then pull the ground beneath their feet. This will not only make them interested in your story but also respect it. For Example: In the opening of Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Kahaani’ (2012) a suspicious looking man enters the metro, making the audience feel that they know what is going to happen — this man is here to do something bad (probably a disgruntled lover or a terrorist). But minutes later the tables are turned, and we come to know that there was a bigger threat that nobody predicted.
- Keep Things Visual: Though screenwriting is done on paper (or digital word processors), its a visual medium. Its easy to write a scene where your characters are having a deep meaningful conversation, but unless you are Quentin Tarantino or Anurag Kashyap, it’s really hard to keep your audience engaged through your web of words. And sometimes, it feels like a necessary burden to forward the story via dialogues, because that is how the characters are going to reveal something important to each other (and the audience). But, there is a fun way to do that; while your characters are busy talking with each other, give them something interesting or bizarre to do. However, make sure not to fly off the handle and go crazy with the idea.
- No Loose Ends: Always remember to clean up behind yourself after you leave a place. Screenwriting follows the similar rule. In the end, there should be no pieces left for your audience to wonder. Nobody should be thinking, “But what happened to that guy who came in that one scene to move the story forward? Where did that person come from? What was he doing there?” A good ending, always satisfies the whole of the story. It’s the feeling ofsatisfaction that must be achieved in order for the ending to work perfectly.And, of course, it’s got to be believable.
- Do Not Drag: Whether its the opening, ending or any other scene of your screenplay, always remember to follow a simple rule to make it highly effective — “Enter as late as possible, and get out as quickly as you can.” A writer should always try to figure out how to get close to the real meat of a particular scene and stay close to it. There is no need to setup the whole premise of a scene. There is no rule in screenwriting that forbids you to start in the middle of a scene (as long as you are able to explain what is happening). Nobody likes a scene that drags unnecessarily. The ending of Kahaani (Sujoy Ghosh), in which we get to know the virtues of a Mother (directed at Vidya Balan’s character) in a voice over was just plain unnecessary. It did not help with the story in anyway, but just spoiled the mood after a wonderful ending.
- Know Your Ending: Knowing how your story is going to end is very important for your beginning. A lot of writers do not have their endings when they start writing their screenplay. You might hear things like “My characters will define the ending.” or “I will discover the end as I write.” from some of these writers, but it doesn’t work this way. Every good screenwriter is very clear what scene will come before they will write FADE OUT. Also, its very important to know your ending, because it is going to effect your opening. How? Read up —
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- Relation Between the Ending and Beginnings: Jean Renoir once said, “A good teacher is someone who shows people the connections between things.” This is a wonderful advice if applied in screenwriting, because in a film every scene and character is related to each other. Similarly, your opening is going to effect your ending; like Newton’s Third Law of Motion — “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” In film language, its called ‘a Payoff’. In the end, all the characters get what they deserve. And the actions they perform to deserve their ending are set in motion in the beginning. Take Gangs of Wasseypur for an example: The opening scene in which Sultan (Pankaj Tripathi) attacks Faisal’s (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) house sets the tone for the rest of the film, but it also gives you a hint of how the films (both its parts) are going to end. Remember, the ending of your screenplay is simply the end of what you started on the first page.
So these were 7 tips (not even guidelines) for you to write better opening and endings. And so do not consider these as some rules for screenwriting. Like every other artist, a screenwriter creates something wonderful when they go out of their comfort zone and take risks. Whether you use these tips or not, the only thing that is going to make you a better writing is practice. So go ahead, and keep writing!
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