On Beginning a Story

I have noticed that in stories I write, at the beginning, the protagonists are always running:

  • Below the Floor (the fairytale book): A little fury kobold is running across the floor of a kitchen, looking for food.
  • The Wendigo Effect (postapocalyptic indie horror movie): A woman with a gas mask is fleeing from a group of masked people who want to wrest an oxygen cylinder from her.
  • Sandshark (script for a comic short story): A young female warrior and a group of marauders are running across a desert – fleeing from a creature which lives underneath the sand.
  • And the list goes on…

I believe that starting a story with a dramatic opening is one of the best ways to captivate the reader. It can also set the tone of the story, especially if you are writing a genre story (horror, adventure, science fiction).

Meaning of the story openings

In Below the Floor the little kobold is rushing across the kitchen floor in order to grab some food. The humans do not know about their housemate, neither do they know about the little kobold village hidden below their floor. In fact, not getting discovered and fleeing is one of the core themes of the story.

In The Wendigo Effect, one of the core themes is survival and what people are willing to do to survive.

And in Sandsharks it made sense to start the story with the sand creature in action, which is hunting our protagonists. Being prey is the core idea of the story. Actually, I had not planned on repeatedly writing running scenes as story openers, it just happened.

But I do believe that a good opening tells you what the core theme of the movie or book is and it gives you a promise of things to come.

First scenes in movies

Of course, there are many other ways to start a story. John Carpenter is a master of setting the tone at the beginning of a movie. For those who do not know: John Carpenter is one of the horror film directors of the 70´s and 80´s, having made films like “Christine” (1983), “The Thing” (1982) and “Halloween” (1978).

analysing "The Thing" by John Carpenter story opener

Still from “The Thing”, dir. by John Carpenter

In the Beginning of Prince of Darkness (1987), if you look at the visuals, nothing extraordinary happens: A student walks across the campus and meets a costudent.

analysis of the beginning of "Prince of Darkness" directed by John Carpenter

Still from “Prince of Darkness”, dir. by John Carpenter

But John Carpenter`s soundtrack makes such an everyday action extremely disturbing because it perfectly announces what the movie is about: The coming of an evil entity. I will not tell any spoilers, just get the movie, it is really worth the watch if you are into horror.

Something similar happens at the beginning of The Thing (jump to 2 min. in the player). Just by watching the first scene you get the feeling that this will not end good. And as you see a guy in a helicopter chasing and trying to kill an innocent husky, it introduces one of the core themes of the movie: paranoia.

Batman v Superman´s (2016) beginning shows us Bruce Wayne`s loss of his loving parents and his descenent into darkness. It also sets the ground for his protector complex which in his adult life will go so far that he even sees Superman as a threat to mankind (In the end, the name of the movie is Batman versus Superman, so there has to be a reason for the fight, right?).

analyzing the story opener of "Batman v Superman" by Zack Snyder

Still from “Batman v Superman”, dir. by Zack Snyder

analyzing the story opener of "Batman v Superman" by Zack Snyder

Still from “Batman v Superman” dir. by Zack Snyder

If you are a writer: What are your favourite ways to start your story? If you are a reader or movie lover, which were your favourite movie/book beginnings? Leave a comment below.

2 responses to “On Beginning a Story

  1. I think there are many great openings to movies that make a strong impression on the audience but the ones I can remember from my mind as I write this would be Scream (that phone call dialogs as she wanders around the kitchen making popcorn was such a captivating moment). The hitcher (1987) if you have seen it with rutger hauer which i recently reviewed, so it came to mind , opening that long dark journey in the car with his psychopathic tendencies and Inglorious Basterds.

    As for books, I love all Stephen King openings..it’s always so eerie which makes a great start to his chapter.


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