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Starting with a bang vs. not so much. (1 Viewer)

ironpony

Senior Member
For my screenplay, it's a crime thriller, and the first scene I open with is a crime comitted by the villains that kick starts off the remaining plot. After the opening crime, I then introduce the main character, who is a detective that arrives at the scene to start to investigate the crime.

But I was told by readers that so far, that it's confusing as to who the main character is, because the main character is just a detective, doing regular detective stuff, and we don't know anything interesting about him at this point, so it comes off as he is interested as just any other character, rather than a protagonist, and so reader feels confused and possibly cheated later on when they find out he is the protagonist.

Therefore, I was thinking, should I introduce the protagonist before the opening, and introduce his personal life, and his marriage, etc, before showing the crime that kickstarts things off?

Or is it better to open with more of a bang, such as an opening crime with the villains then opening with a character's more quiet personal life? Thanks for any advice on it! I really appreciate it!
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
For my screenplay, it's a crime thriller, and the first scene I open with is a crime comitted by the villains that kick starts off the remaining plot. After the opening crime, I then introduce the main character, who is a detective that arrives at the scene to start to investigate the crime.

But I was told by readers that so far, that it's confusing as to who the main character is, because the main character is just a detective, doing regular detective stuff, and we don't know anything interesting about him at this point, so it comes off as he is interested as just any other character, rather than a protagonist, and so reader feels confused and possibly cheated later on when they find out he is the protagonist.

Therefore, I was thinking, should I introduce the protagonist before the opening, and introduce his personal life, and his marriage, etc, before showing the crime that kickstarts things off?

Or is it better to open with more of a bang, such as an opening crime with the villains then opening with a character's more quiet personal life? Thanks for any advice on it! I really appreciate it!
You might just need to go a little deeper into the main character - perspective, depiction, etc - to ensure it's clear he's the one to follow. The actual order of events sounds fine. I wouldn't go into all that marriage/personal life backstory stuff in the first instance though.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
That's true, but I was told it's a problem at the script level, and that I need to show unique character traits for the main character right away, to make it obvious, in order for it to sell better, if that's true?
 

Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
Off the top of my head, maybe have the detective mentioning that this is an unusual case for him (if it is) as an example. The key reason most stories are told is because that story is worth telling, as opposed to the everyday normality of life.

As @bdcharles and @Olly Buckle said, nothing sounds wrong with your setup, and the production of a TV or movie on a visual story-telling level usually makes it pretty obvious who the protagonist is.

So many stories on TV or film start with the badguy that audiences are almost hardwired now to know that if we see someone doing something evil, and we cut to the next scene, then that character is most certainly our hero.

But if you still feel unsure, and the unusual case thing isn't true, then you have to look at the character to give him something out of his everyday existence that makes him start the story from this point. Has he just got divorced and this is a new chapter in his life? Has he just been in a car crash and this is the first day back on the job and it's changed his perspective on life? You're going to have to think up stuff like these examples because the way you've started off the scenes doesn't sound like it has a single problem.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
There's an excellent guide called 45 master characters. It lists the flaws of people according to the archetype. Try that. The person who wrote that is called Victoria Lynn Schidmt.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, thanks I will check it out! Well one person told me that the main character has do something extradinary or not normal when they first appear so we know who the MC is, where as mine is just any detective doing nothing more than regular detective work when he appears. Is that true though, that they have to do something out of the ordinary right when they first appear?
 

Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
Not at all. Whoever told you that hasn't watched 99% of all crime dramas on TV.
Watch the movies too, most detective stories don't have the detectives doing anything particularly special. My favorite crime movie of all time, Seven, has Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt doing nothing amazing nor out of the ordinary when we first meet them. The reason the story starts getting told from the point it does is because Freeman is about to retire and that's when the killings start happening.

You need to watch or read the genres yourself, analyze them and stick to your guns. Because not everyone's feedback is justified. There's a saying I remember someone said on another forum once "People don't like the taste of water until they've pissed in it a little themselves."
Just because one person is telling you this, it doesn't mean it's right. It could very well be that's how they want it to always start. You've had 3-4 people here telling you otherwise, so if you keep holding your work accountable to one person's view, then your work will end up being a mishmash of conflicting ideas and never get finished.
Sure, you want something that makes your story stand out from the crowd, but to say that then requires the character specifically doing something amazing in the first five seconds is hogwash.
 
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Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
There is the 'Save the cat' approach, which is fairly common. The hero does something nice when he first appears, like saving a cat, or dropping someone a hint. It doesn't have to be a big thing, but it creates a mindset with the audience that this is a nice guy, which will persist surprisingly well, even if he does some terrible things later.
Check out Blake Snyder's book of the same name, he is an experienced screen writer who gives a good layout for a screenplay.
 
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ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay thanks. I can check it out. Well the way I wrote it so far, is the hero is called to respond to the crime scene, and when he gets there, the villains are still there. He manages to arrest one of them and the others get away. So I guess he's not really doing something nice, but doing something for the good of the community in a sense.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
You should certainly check it out, he gives lots of detailed advice about when to make plot twists happen and that sort of thing. Of course it wouldn't apply to every movie, but it is ideal for the sort of thing you seem to be writing.
In terms of 'save the cat' itself it would be something like giving way to let a mother and child cross the road. You could easily work that in, whilst he is stopped he glances down a side street and sees something suspicious for example. Anyway, definitely check out the book, it could be very helpful to you.

Check out this history,
"Blake sold many original scripts and pitches to the major studios, including two million-dollar sales (one to Steven Spielberg), and had two films produced. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Third Grade and Nuclear Family sold to Universal; Poker Night, Drips, Blank Check and Herbie Comes Home sold to Disney; How I Joined The CIA and Big, Ugly Baby! sold to Fox Family TV; and Alienators to Total Film Group."
I reckon he has a bit more cred. than your friend who read the script.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
You should certainly check it out, he gives lots of detailed advice about when to make plot twists happen and that sort of thing. Of course it wouldn't apply to every movie, but it is ideal for the sort of thing you seem to be writing.
In terms of 'save the cat' itself it would be something like giving way to let a mother and child cross the road. You could easily work that in, whilst he is stopped he glances down a side street and sees something suspicious for example. Anyway, definitely check out the book, it could be very helpful to you.

Check out this history,
"Blake sold many original scripts and pitches to the major studios, including two million-dollar sales (one to Steven Spielberg), and had two films produced. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Third Grade and Nuclear Family sold to Universal; Poker Night, Drips, Blank Check and Herbie Comes Home sold to Disney; How I Joined The CIA and Big, Ugly Baby! sold to Fox Family TV; and Alienators to Total Film Group."
I reckon he has a bit more cred. than your friend who read the script.
Oh okay thanks, I can check out, thanks. Are you saying that the main character can see something suspicious down the street for example?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
My idea is that you try to work the 'save the cat' moment into the plot , so for example because he has stopped to give way to the weak and vulnerable he notices something he wouldn't have if he had been moving.

Sorry side streets and mother and child are distracting, it doesn't matted where it is, or if the vulnerable person is in a wheel chair or has crutches, they don't even have to be crossing the road. Just the basic steps. He shows a human side and does something nice. The better it fits in with the plot, of course, the more natural it will seem.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay thanks. Well my main character gets called to a crime in progress, saves a potential victim, and makes an arrest but maybe that's not save the cat enough, because a reader may expect something different? :)
 

notawizard

Senior Member
My first thought was I don't see how someone could make this mistake as so many stories start this way, but I think what might be throwing them off is that you start with the criminals, and they are still on scene for the scene where the detective comes in. It's very common in a crime story to have the crime committed, then the detective show up and try to solve it. Because 99.999% of our stories are told from the good guy's point of view, and detectives are sort of default good guys, the audience is able to piece together easily who the protagonist is.

I can see the way you've described it being a little confusing as to who the story is really supposed to be about.

Is there a reason the bad guy has to be arrested? Maybe you could have the MC come in and save someone, but the bad guy gets away? If this bad guy isn't integral to the main plot, that could be a motivation to the character to solve the case he's on? Alternatively, you could open with the detective getting a call and then showing up and arresting the guys rather than starting with the crime in progress. That being said, I think generally (and I could be wrong on this) if a crime is actually in progress, a detective wouldn't be the one called to the scene, right? Wouldn't they call a patrolman? Detectives usually work to solve the crime after it's been committed.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh well I was just going by movies I saw before, but I noticed in movies like Dirty Harry, Harry seems to be a detective, but he's out on patrol regularly in a car, in plain clothes in the movies. So I thought I would just have him doing that if those movies, do it, unless that is not good?

Also, after this part of the plot, what comes after is the police wanting the victim in the crime to testify against her capture, and this causes her to be put in danger from the others who got a way. The others will not think she is much of a threat, if she doesn't have an arrested defendant to testify against, would they? That is why I need that arrested defendant I thought.

I thought of opening with the detective getting the call and then going to it rather than starting with the crime in progress, but there are certain details of the crime that the reader would not understand unless I show them first, before the crime is interrupted though. I could show them in flashback later, but I thought it was just better to tell the events in chronological order, rather than flashback and recap later, unless doing that is better?
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Oh okay thanks. Well my main character gets called to a crime in progress, saves a potential victim, and makes an arrest but maybe that's not save the cat enough, because a reader may expect something different? :)
That is the plot rather than 'Save the cat'. StC would be more an incidental, a small act of kindness on the side, that shows the human side of the hero. A little bit of extra consideration for the victim for example, not out of place, but he didn't have to do it for the plot to work.

Go read the book, it really is quite good. My friend's daughter was doing a script writing course at uni. and dived on my copy when she saw it, having heard lots about it. Afraid I haven't seen it since and she has gone to work for a script writing company in San Francisco :(
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh you mean the book by Blake Snyder? I can read that. I read The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, and that book says to do the opposite and start of with the main character doing something that shows they have a moral flaw.

I could start off with an act of kindness that is not related to the plot in anyway, but I thought I should start out with bang and more suspense and action, for intrigue, unless that's not the way to go?
 

notawizard

Senior Member
Oh well I was just going by movies I saw before, but I noticed in movies like Dirty Harry, Harry seems to be a detective, but he's out on patrol regularly in a car, in plain clothes in the movies. So I thought I would just have him doing that if those movies, do it, unless that is not good?

Also, after this part of the plot, what comes after is the police wanting the victim in the crime to testify against her capture, and this causes her to be put in danger from the others who got a way. The others will not think she is much of a threat, if she doesn't have an arrested defendant to testify against, would they? That is why I need that arrested defendant I thought.

I thought of opening with the detective getting the call and then going to it rather than starting with the crime in progress, but there are certain details of the crime that the reader would not understand unless I show them first, before the crime is interrupted though. I could show them in flashback later, but I thought it was just better to tell the events in chronological order, rather than flashback and recap later, unless doing that is better?
It might increase tension to have those elements hidden, too. Especially with crime stories, it can really increase tension to not understand all the elements of the crime.

Here is a link to patrolman vs. detective that might help:

Honestly, I think you could get away with a detective who shows up at a crime scene for a story considering it happens in TV shows all the time, so viewers might just assume that's fine. I know that for me it would pull me out a little to happen at the opening of a story--unless it was a situation where the detective is working on a crime and maybe shows up on his own? For instance, if the detective was chasing a serial killer an had a police scanner and heard a call for something that seemed to match his guy, so he showed up on his own to see if it was him? Or you could try to give him a reason. Maybe it's a really small town that only has a handful of police, and someone scheduled for patrol didn't show up to work so he's been asked to fill in even though it wasn't normal duties?

Take everything I say with a grain of salt, too. I don't know the details of the story so it's possible that it would be fine if I had all the details.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Oh okay, thanks for the ideas. Do detectives do detective work all the time though? Aren't there ever any instances, where the superior may say, we don't have any cases for you right now, so we need you to do patrol for today, because we are short there, etc? Or at least I thought this was common, but I was setting the story in a big city setting.

As for not understanding all the elements, I am keeping some hidden such as backstory and motivation as well as some other things in the crime that are not seen until later, but I feel if I keep the entire thing hidden and it's all shown from the main character's point of view, when he arrives, then I will have to show more of a flashback recap later, and I just often hate backtracking with flashbacks. Flashbacks are just kind of a pet peeve of mine, that I often like to avoid if possible, unless it's normal for story telling, and totally worth having later, just for the sake of mystery?
 
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