This week’s video uses the classic western film True Grit to explain why it’s sometimes wisest to open your story before the inciting event.
Video Transcription: Writers can’t afford to waste readers’ time or test their patience by meandering about in their opening scenes. We have to get right to the point. Often, that means opening right at the moment when our character’s world is changed forever—otherwise known as the inciting event. The idea is that if we open at a moment of fever-pitch tension, readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages, and there’s no question this is often the most effective way to begin a story.
However, some stories work much better if we first take the time to introduce the character in his “normal world,” before the inciting event comes blasting into view. Doing so, allows us to provide contrast with the difficulties to follow and can also up the tension by showing what’s at stake for the character if he fails. The classic western True Grit gives us a good example. If the movie had opened with the inciting event—the murder of protagonist Mattie Ross’s father—we would have lost both the opportunity to immediately identify with Mattie (played by Kim Darby) as the main character and to witness the loving relationship between her and her father.
Director Henry Hathaway slowed down enough at the beginning to offer viewers a few quick scenes, showing the Rosses’ farm, Mattie’s family, the murderer Tom Cheney’s relationship with them, and particularly the interaction between Mattie and her doomed father. As a result, when a drunken Cheney kills Frank Ross a few scenes later, we care about what’s just happened—and we’re completely on board when Mattie decides to track down her father’s killer. Sometimes it pays to take our time!
We’re accustomed to think of our muse as a whimsical and erratic fairy-like creature, or perhaps a wise old prophet forever stroking his beard and poking his spectacles up higher on the bridge of his nose. Either way, the muse often seems untouchable. Fairies and prophets aren’t likely to listen to the entreaties of mere mortals like ourselves, so all we can do is wait around until they start thinking kind thoughts about us. Right?
Related Posts: Maximize Your Inciting Event
9 Ways to Strengthen Your Beginning
Utilize Character in Your Opening Scene
Story by K.M. Weiland