My husband was reading an article on screen plays when he asked, “Did you know you should start out and leave a scene with twenty to thirty unanswered questions?”
Scrunching my forehead, I told him I didn’t know that, thinking, “That’s weird, how are you supposed to do that?” Then within hours we watched the pilot for a new show called Believe. From the teaser commercials we didn’t know anything about it except that there is a little blond girl with some sort of powers who is somehow vital to the world as a whole.
Now don’t worry about spoilers since the show has been cancelled already.
So the first scene begins with the little blond girl, Bo, singing songs with I assume her parents, driving down a dark road in a mini van. Except Bo calls these “parents” by their first names. Another car hits them, flipping the van and the woman of that car gets out, swaying, and makes her way to the overturned van, crying and visibly upset that she caused an accident. When she sees that mom and Bo are no longer in the van, she pulls out a gun and shoots the dad. She then tracks the girl and mom and is about to shoot the mom figure when a bunch of do-gooders show up to help with the accident and the woman backs off.
At this point, I know absolutely nothing. No back story or explanations have been given, but boy-oh-boy do I have questions.
Who is Bo? What’s so special about her? Are those her parents? If not, who are they? How did they know to get Bo out of the van to run? Who is the woman after her and why?
It goes right into the next scene with a priest going into a jail cell to give last rites to a man who is going to be executed within minutes. The dead man walking (Tate) shouts that he’s innocent. The priest says he can get him out of there if Tate will agree to do something for a little girl that only he can do. Tate agrees and a special unit goes into action and breaks him out.
What? I still have no idea what’s going on. Who is Tate? Is he really a murderer? Was he framed? Is he a liar? Why is he so special that the unit needs him? Who is the priest guy? What is the unit? Are they good guys or bad buys?
Less than ten minutes in and I literally know nothing. But am I hooked? You betcha. I have to keep watching to know the answers. It’s human nature and a little bit of ego to see if what I’m guessing is right.
But that got me thinking about my own openings. Am I layering question upon question? I don’t think I have been. I’ve been focused on making sure I’m getting all my goals, conflicts, and motivations in place. I’m placing in snippets of who the characters are, where they are from, and clues about where the plot will go, but…questions? I’m supposed to be laying down a trail of questions?
I feel like Heidi Klum in that shampoo commercial where she says, “All this time, we’ve been working on the wrong end of hair!”
Heck, yeah, I want to keep readers on the edge of their seats with anticipation. I want them so curious they have to keep reading. I want them to feel satisfied when they’re right or I want them to think I’m utterly brilliant when they are surprised.
Ugh, all this time I’ve been working on the wrong end of GMC. Okay, back to the plotting notebook. My new technique: In this scene, what questions do I want my readers to ask?
As always, merry writing and have a wonderful summer. For those who will be traveling over the next couple of months, have fun, be safe, we’ll miss you and will be glad to see you upon your return.