Inglourious Basterds has such a perfect opening movement.
“Kieran, there’s no such thing as perfect,” you say.
With all due respect, you’re wrong.
There is a perfect structure.
Let’s talk about what makes something perfect.
I recently re-watched Inglorious Basterds. My respect for that film has only increased.
Inglorious Basterds opening movement is perfect.
What is it that makes the opening scene so good?
First, the obvious; the acting, the set design and the dialogue. They all help it, but it would not hold up as well as it does without the underlying structure.
Think about it. The scene features no robots punching each other. There is no car chase and certainly no big explosions. Instead, the scene is two men sitting at a table talking, and for some reason, you cannot peel your eyes away.
If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you’ll know I wax lyrical about the “Simplified Story System”. Every perfect scene, every perfect book, play, film, blog post, non-fiction, you name it. Follows this structure.
1 – The set-up: You’re introduced to all the crucial factors; characters, setting, tone etc
2 – Things go well: Everything seems fine and dandy.
3 – Realisation: Something we were previously unaware of comes to light
4 – Choice: Now knowing the new information, the hero must make a choice
5 – Aftermath: The consequences of the choice are felt, and there’s a new normal.
The opening movement to Inglourious Basterds hits all these points.
You can play around with it too.
With Inglourious Basterds’ Realisation point, it is us. We, the audience, have a moment of realisation. In this case, the family under the floorboards are known to the farmer and Hans Landa. The revelation of their whereabouts is for our benefit. The critical aspect to remember is as follows. Someone, even if it’s the audience, must have a moment of realisation.
Now here is the part where I lose you. This structure can be brought into other disciplines.
Go back and read my most recent blog posts about being in an abusive relationship. Part of the reason why people have told me it’s a great read is because of that underlying structure. (I’m not blowing my own trumpet. Insecure people will say I’m bragging. Well adjusted people call this “knowing your worth”).
Are you struggling with a piece of writing? Then, go back, apply this structure and watch your writing skyrocket.
🤬😠😡NO SPOILERS! 😡😠🤬
Wanna know something weird? They did a study where one group read a story and the other group read the same story but with a spoiler at the start.
Here’s the crazy part.
But not you, though.
You avoid spoilers.
You’re far too sophisticated. Too sophisticated, pick up on the entire story being summarised before your eyes in 5 minutes or less.
You may think that a story’s opening scene is just a hook—something to create a bit of intrigue that keeps you invested.
To an extent, that’s true.
What if I told you there was more to it than that?
The perfect opening scene, the perfect opening sentence, the perfect first paragraph. What do they have in common? They sum it all up for you. The whole piece condensed down into one instance.
Subconsciously, your audience loves a spoiler.
Want to craft the perfect opening movement? Work out what your story is and summarise it. Still struggling? Leave your opening to the end. You, as a writer, need to work out what your story is in the first place. When you do that, you can craft a brilliant opening. An opening that subtly communicates to your audience what you have in store.
If you’re struggling with your ending, go back and look at your beginning.
If you think this applies only to fiction writing, guess again. You can use this for your blogs, non-fiction and copywriting. Heck, even your Instagram captions.
Go now and write. When you’re done, go back and perfect your opening.
An opening movement needs a likeable hero
“But Kieran, they’re the hero. The audience has to like them.”
An audience does not have to do anything. They’re under no such obligation.
One of the pitfalls many writers, even the seasoned ones, fall into is this. Forgetting to make our heroes likeable.
If you want the audience to invest in the hero, you’re going to have to give us a reason to hang around.
One way to get us to do that is to make them likeable.
“OK, here’s the thing, Kieran, I don’t have to bother with that. My audience is smart”. I’m sure they are.
Having a scene where you show your hero as likeable is what I call a “Penny in the plate” piece of writing. You may think it’s archaic, and you don’t see the point in it, but you do it anyway. I’ll be talking about another “penny in the plate” moment piece later.
You even see it in copywriting. The writer stops their pitch to tell you about themselves. How they built themselves up from nothing. How they faced injustice or how they overcome adversity. You like the person, so you read on.
Here’ three examples.
One does it brilliantly, one makes you like someone you should not and one that doesn’t do it and is a box office failure.
Spiderman 2: On his way to deliver a pizza, Peter Parker stops to save some kids playing on the street. It causes him to deliver pizza late, he gets fired. Now you double like him, saved kids and was punished. This film is still highly rated because even though it’s a sequel, it put a penny on the plate. Spiderman 2 reestablished the likability of the hero.
Aladdin (92)- We should not like Aladdin. What’s to like? He is a smart-mouthed thief. But what does he do with his stolen bread? He gives it away to orphan children worse off than him. You like Aladdin after this.
Blade Runner 2049-I love this film but get why it was a box office bomb. Ryan Gosling’s K breaks into an unarmed man’s house, is rude to his host then kills him. Unfortunately, Blade Runner 2049 did not put a penny on the plate and suffered for their sins.
You may feel like this is a pointless exercise but ask yourself:
Is your hero likeable? Have you made yourself likeable?
Strangely having a likeable hero is where I get a lot of push back. I’m not sure why. Part of me wonders because we are now in an era of “I am enough”, which at best is a place where we accept ourselves. At worst, we allow ourselves the most asshole behaviour.
Here was a comment I received on the original Instagram post.
Empathy, as good as it is, is not concrete. Being likeable is. There is a clear pass or fail state. Do you like the hero? Do you not like the hero.
Empathy is a bit too vague a bit too abstract. Instead, why not make your hero deaf, blind, dumb and paraplegic. Will that not make them even more empathetic?
Anyway, moving on.
Above I talked about a “Penny in the plate” scene.
Scenes that you might not see the point in, but you need to have it in your story.
Let’s talk about the call to adventure/refusal/acceptance.
Before the hero sets off on their journey, they have to have a moment of doubt. Are they doing the right thing?
It makes them more relatable. Think about what you’ve gone through. Right before going on that big holiday, starting a new job, we’ve all had that thought of “What if I just didn’t”. No one is 100% sure of anything.
In your story, you have to show that there is no going “home”.
The best example of this is in A New Hope. Obi-wan tells Luke he has to come with him and save Princess Leia. He says no, and after finding lasered jawas, he goes back home to find his aunt and uncle dead. Luke accepts the call to adventure and joins Obi-wan.
Here’s the thing, the call to adventure, refusal and acceptance don’t even have to be that long. Michael Mann’s Collateral probably has one of the shortest calls to adventure seconds. Watch the video. It’s approximately 15 seconds. Tom Cruise’s hitman asks Jamie Foxx’s cab driver if he is free. The hitman is walking away when the cab driver calls him back. Now you could argue that the call to adventure occurs after the hitman’s first murder. But by that point, the cab driver is in too deep.
No matter how short it is, you need to have a call to adventure, refusal of call and acceptance of the call.
A story without the refusal can leave a strange aftertaste.
Interstellar is a film I do not get the hype with. There are many problems, such as a lack of any meaningful choice in the climax. (I’ll talk about that another day). Interstellar does not pay homage to the call/refusal/acceptance. There is no refusal when the hero, Cooper, decides to go on his mission. There is no doubt. He just up and leaves. The feeling it creates? We feel like Cooper can’t wait to ditch his family.
You need to have the call/refusal/acceptance. Don’t skip the steps.
Include it in your copywriting too. For example, when you read my blogs, I’ll put phrases like “You can stop reading if you want”.
Seriously though, you can stop reading.
Put a penny on the plate.
Will you answer the call or refuse?
Conclusion: Opening movement
First impressions count. Your opening movement needs to be
When you read the above, I mapped out some of the vital aspects the opening of your story needs.
This is for all forms of storytelling. You may think I’m only talking about films. Not so. This can apply to novels, non-fiction, blogs and copywriting—even Instagram captions.
You may think there’s no set way, but there is.
There are certain aspects all stories tend to contain. Now some comments say #notall, and you know what you’re right. However, it tends to be reserved for the master storytellers. Check out Picasso’s early work. He did not jump straight into cubism.
You are not Picasso. I am not Picasso.
Hone your craft. Integrate the guidelines of storytelling before attempting to show off.
Now let’s recap.
When you’re writing your opening movement, you’ll do well to include.
1-An opening scene that summarises the whole story
2-A likeable hero
3-A larger problem the hero must solve
4-A call to adventure, refusal of the call, then answering the call
5-You have to set up everything in the beginning, too (more on that later)
Now you have everything your beginning needs to include.
What’s stopping you from getting started?
Did you like that?
If you did would you mind signing up to my email because you’re a legend.
Do you need an ebook to help you with your screenplay? Look no further! You can get your hands on the Write Your Screenplay in 12 Days ebook here now.
Also if you like my writing click the link below.
Thank you and have a great day,