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We hear loads about the judgements made on our first ten pages, but spend even a short while as a script reader and you’ll see in real terms many scripts don’t even make it past the first PAGE.

Le shock! How can this be??? It’s very simple. The writers whose scripts don’t even make it past the first page are those who have made some cardinal sin: the wrong format is obvious, as is a plethora of black on the page. But perhaps more importantly, there are scripts with cliched, bad or just plain DULL openers.

First off, what do I mean by “opener”? Well, in this case I don’t even mean the entire first page, but the FIRST IMAGE we see. Every script should open WELL, giving the reader some sense of the tone of the story and what’s to come. Yet shockingly, a huuuuuuuge amount of writers open on random things, events and objects and confess to readers like me they “hadn’t really thought” of that first image.

Yet the first image you choose to show us in your story is VITAL in gauging the reader’s interest. On this basis then, here are my top 5 groan-worthy first images I see again and again which make me want to PLUCK MY EYES OUT:

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.

We all know first impressions count for a lot in this biz – sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. Whatevs. We have ONE CHANCE to impress. But what’s the likelihood of impressing if the first thing a reader does when they see your very first image is groan, “Seen it before, a million times?”

Always think of that FIRST image, let the reader know the tone of your story and give them an idea of what’s coming next. And most of all, be original.

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40 Responses to 5 Openers That Make Readers GROAN

  1. Hettie Ashwin says:

    The opener is where you grab your audience by the scruff and let them know you mean business. I would add to your list the longing look…
    ugghghg. Mary looked into the distance at the wind/rolling hills/cows/etc. It was going to be a long night..OMG save me.

  2. terraling says:

    In his Raindance book Elliot Grove describes how nearly every front page looks the same, like a T, where there are a few lines of decription and then straight into a page of dialogue, or sometimes an I (wrong font, an 'I' with bars at top and bottom) where you have a few lines of description, mostly dialogue, and a bit more description at the bottom. What made him get excited about a script was someone who could write an opening page or more of description with No dialogue.

    But in my experience, most readers hate that shit, it goes directly against the rule of not much black stuff, gives an oh-boy not gonna be an easy read impression.

  3. PenEnvy says:

    Ha – love this post. It's the alarm clock that's a killer for me. Just so common in scripts. The one time this is ok is the first scene of Four Weddings, when we see Hugh Grant waking up and swearing. You have to be bloody good to play with a cliche like that.

  4. Matt Cruse says:

    In all the years I've been writing, working in the industry and developing scripts, I have never EVER accepted this rule that you need to grab your audience in the first 10 pages. You need to grab them at page 1.

  5. Matt Cruse says:


    Unfortunately, I think you're right about readers not wanting a load of the black stuff. In my early years I used to champion this too, but gradually came to realise that this is not actually a good philosophy to have, especially when dealing with screenplays for feature films. It's a reader's job to read a script. If they're not keen on a load of the black stuff they should get over it or get another job.

  6. Leyton Rocks says:

    I think Lucy's point is more what is happening when you open your script … check out Le Samourai, Driver and Drive for pages of no dialogue but no worse a read … it's what's happening that's going to get the reader not the shape of the page 😉 (I imagine)

  7. Leyton Rocks says: … opening page of Alien is neither full of dialogue nor black stuff … reads great too 😉

  8. Henry Sheppard says:

    Thanks, Lucy. I reposted most of this on Adelaide Screenwriter. Wonderful work. We appreciate you down under…

  9. Robert Yates says:

    This is brilliant. Thanks!

    *Walking* – oh the shame! I'm guilty. Never on a spec though.

    Have previously retweeted this @ScriptSense.

    Cheers for everything you do for us!

  10. Ha! Excellent.

    I’d add a number six, though….

    Don’t forget the trust ‘bird’s eye view of town, with voiceover’.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Hah! Haven’t seen that one in a while, to be fair. The fast-forwarding cityscape is another that never seems to go away.

      • Ah, yes. Streaking car lights, etc.

        Worked well in ‘Blade’ last I remember – the sun setting as the creatures of the night began their fornication.

        However, that was 15 years ago and had connectivity with the story. Elsewhere – done to exhaustion. Yes.

  11. So far so good. Never tried to sell a movie script, but an idea popped in the other day that would be perfect for a Damian Lewis lead… But who’s my good girl and who’s my bad girl? Back burner, ’til I’m through a-ponderin’.


  12. […] They avoided cliched openers and cliches in […]

  13. Philip Carr says:

    How about a moving aerial shot of skyscrapers as a hackneyed intro? Surely this is number one?

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      TBH I don’t see that very often in screenplays, leading me to believe (rightly or wrongly) that shot is frequently an add-on by a director.

  14. Nicole says:

    Just started writing a script which opens with an alarm clock blaring over black. Then the protagonist looks at himself in the mirror. I’m really happy with this scene! I’ll try incorporating walking and windscreen wipers somehow. Thanks for the great advice!

    • V. Gosav says:

      Hi Nicole! I like your attitude and I love your screenplay already ! Go girl ! Add whatever you feel it’s necessary to YOUR STORY ! I’m feed up with all these “readers” who are not doing their job, which is TO READ THE ENTIRE SCRIPT, before judging it ! WTF? Who hires these kind of readers? No offence to you, Lucy V. Hay, ( I read and pasted so many of your articles), but I don’t agree much with your “list” in this case.

      • Lucy V Hay says:

        LOL and no offence to YOU V.Gosav – but I’m willing to bet real money you’d feel the same as me if you read as many of the above list as me! 😉

        • V. Gosav says:

          Hi Lucy (you have the same name as my wife, so I like you right away, although you drive me nuts sometimes, same as my wife – no offence! ).
          I do believe that you’ve read a lot of scrips, however I hope you did not dismiss some of those scripts right from the first page, just because they started with something that was – in your opinion – so “cliche”.
          If I was a producer, or director, or an executive, or just a writer, and I asked (and maybe paid) a reader to read a script for me and found out later that the reader just skimmed through that script and dismissed it, because he/she didn’t like the opening, or the first 10-15 pages, or whatever, I’ll be pretty mad.
          Seeing how many bad movies get made, you wonder how many good movies did not get through because of some “in bad mood and feed up with his job” reader.
          I also hope that you, or other “paid readers” did not dismiss those scripts not even by the 10 or 15 pages either, especially not after we’ve seen so many produced and commercially successful movies who do exactly as you and other “gurus” said not to do.
          Who and what are we supposed to believe? The more articles and books I read, the more confuse I become, about how to do this or that.
          In the end, I think that every writer should follow his/her instincts, and do what he/she thinks serve best his/her story, regardless of what the market or the “gurus” say.
          Yet, I still like you, and read and paste, most of your articles (99%), Lucy :)

          • Lucy V Hay says:

            If you think there is *a* way to do this stuff Mr V (ie. “good” and “bad”), or indeed “gurus” or people you SHOULD believe, you ain’t ready for all this … 😉

          • V. Gosav says:

            Hi Lucy.
            Today is my birthday, and I decided a while ago that on this day, I would call, write or email the people that I care about in my life, and thank them for being in my life, and apologize to them, if I ever upset or offended them in any way.
            So, thank you Lucy for your articles, your wisdom and your patience in dealing with passionate writers (like me) and I apologize for my forceful way of expressing my opinions sometimes.
            You are right, I am not ready for all this yet, but I am working on it, with the same passion, and I am still one of your biggest fans.
            Have a great day, keep up the good work, and God bless you :)

          • Lucy V Hay says:

            Hey forceful opinions are great Mr V and I am not offended in the slightest! Do what you love my friend and go for it, what else is there? :) Have a brilliant brithday x

          • V. Gosav says:

            Thank you :)

      • Nicole says:

        Did anyone not get I was kidding around? Hahah Jesus! I fully agree with this article and all the 5 points mentioned. I’ve been a reader myself for over two years and the beginning of a screenplay tells me a lot about the writer and usually it takes the end of Act 1 to determine the quality of the screenplay. I’ve always had to read the entire script since my coverage included a detailed synopsis but a lot of readers don’t. Don’t blame them… blame the millions of incredibly awful screenplays floating around.

        Back to the article… Lucy’s not telling anyone what to do or what not to do… all she’s saying is–be original.

  15. I think I used the windshield and the feet walking in different scenes for my opening, but only to give the characters something to look at and throw the audience off before an random moment of extreme violence – have a read on my blogsite

  16. Denise says:

    I had written my screenplay in chronological order of events [it’s a tragic love story, closely based on a true murder case where one of the unconventional lovers was executed].

    Then, mindful of your advice that it is the first page, rather than the first 10 pages, which will grab the reader, I thought of adding a better opening ‘hook’, which would tell the reader/viewer immediately what sort of story this would be. So, I inserted a new, brief opening scene, a ‘flash forward’ to the accused arriving at the courthouse and being subjected to the hostility of the crowd – could this be because of their crime or their unconventionality, we may wonder. Then we go back to where, when and how it all began and follow the story through without further timeslip.

    I realise now that this means the bulk of my script is a ‘flashback’. ‘Not sure if this is an odd approach or indeed a no-no? I’m also now looking at a variety of films in case my courthouse arrival ‘flash forward’ is in fact rather old hat. It does seem to make a better balanced script, though, and I still have the ‘set up'; the first inciting incident, and all the main characters making an appearance within the first 10 pages.

    I’m an avid film watcher but have never before analysed them for pace, etc., as you do so well yourself, Lucy.

  17. nicola says:

    My script starts kind of from black but its space black – is that better? Start off in the solar system, but its not like the 3 pager you wrote of the most cliche opener ever. To me, its integral because its what’s we’re about to discover i.e. how we came to know that the solar system is indeed the SOLAR system and that the Earth isn’t the centre of the Universe.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Like I always say, it’s hard to know without reading the actual scene but do be aware there’s a LOT of “space black” in the spec pile, for the reasons you describe.

  18. Phil says:

    Opening scenes / images are hard. I must have been through at least 10 in the current script I’m writing. It’s a thriller dealing with hitmen / revenge. I’ve never used any from this list, but of the ones I have used, it’s destroyed me every time, to get rid of them for another. The last one was the hero waking up in a graveyard, sprawled over his mother’s grave with his name spray painted over her’s. He wakes up, bloody, beaten, and looks around, sees a large chunk of the cemetery destroyed (from whatever incident put him there), then he races off to something, and next scene, which is back a few days. I loved this opening because it’s him waking up in a place where people are dead. It’s perfect because he gets shot and dies at the end, but I had to get rid of it because I decided I’m sick of movies beginning with a flash forward, AND there’s a good chance that scene isn’t even going to be in the script anymore, due to major changes. It sucks because it was an intense opening. Now, it begins with him practicing in a shooting range, then we flashback a few days to a scene where a couple of cops kill some other cops, then a guy in a mask shows up and kills another cop, while one gets away, later to be killed in a shower of acid. So, while my current opening is technically still a flash forward, it’s really only a few seconds long, just to expose the hero first, rather than an entire scene. Then, after the first full scene, we cut to him receiving a file from the guy who killed the cop, and THEN back to the shooting range, where he’s practicing because he’s been out of the business for a while, and just received a file from his friend, containing the whereabouts of some men who used him in a child sex ring when he was a teen. This entire incident causes the friend to be killed, and sets off the revenge plot, etc. Ok, I’m rambling. Anyway, I think I do alright with staying away from cliches, however, I need to learn how to let good scenes go, as I never want to get rid of anything, and could really do with getting rid of some scenes, now.

  19. Michael Rumney says:

    I know very little about Screen Writing but I couldn’t agree more about making an impression in the first page. After all if you write a book you need to grab the attention of the reader in the first page otherwise they will put it back on the shelf and buy another book.

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