Using Cinematic Beginnings in Writing

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Think about your favorite movie. Think of the beginning of that movie and what about it made you want to watch the rest. Was it exciting? Mysterious and intriguing?

Any good story starts with something that makes the viewer or reader want to know what happens at the end. This is true of many storytelling mediums. Two ways to start any story off strong are through action or through intrigue and curiosity. Both are strong ways to begin, but they provide different atmospheres the reader may expect for the rest of the story. Good writers employ elements of both.


Drop your readers right in the middle of a cinematic, action-packed scene. Don’t start with what the main character had for breakfast the day his or her house gets attacked by crazed rebels. Start with the rebels, or five minutes before they show up.

You’ll have plenty of time to introduce the idiosyncrasies of your character later on, after the action. Plus, much can be said about a person by how they react to stressful situations. After you throw your character into a bad spot, do they react with fear, trying to get away from the danger? Or do they face it, ready to fight back? Skip what they had on their bagel that morning—that tells us nothing. Worse, it bores readers.


This is the slower way to start off a story and, oftentimes, the more powerful. Play off your readers’ innate sense of curiosity—put them into the middle of an unanswered question and they will read on to find the answer.

Why is the main character acting strangely? Why are there five people in the middle of the forest with torches? Why is the character sitting on the side of the road, looking at a destroyed vehicle?

This method can be a compromise between the two. You’re inviting the reader five minutes after what would have been an action beginning. Think about the above-mentioned example of the character who faces the crazed rebels attacking his or her house. Instead of dropping the reader into the attack, you might drop them in after the rebels leave.

As a writer, you can give or withhold as much information as you want from the reader. This is your world. By withholding information from the reader, you lead them to ask questions. If you can straddle the line between offering enough to keep readers on board but force them to ask questions, then you’ve figured out how to begin your story.

Try employing both tactics. Write two beginnings—you’re going to for your next draft anyway—and see which works better. And, whatever you do, never stop writing.

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About Author

John Paul Schmidt is a former news journalist. Now he's a freelancer by day and bartender by night while he works on his novel.

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