This goes for TV shows as well as books or comics or off-Broadway musicals.
When people tell stories, it isn’t usually a matter of starting at A and working your way through events, as they happened, until you get to Z (or ZZZZZ if it’s boring and your audience has fallen asleep). There’s a rhythm to these things, and interesting to see or think about why the creator made the decisions they did.
What happens at the beginning?
The opener is designed mainly to get your audience’s attention and make them want to know what else happens in your story. Sometimes this means kicking things off in the middle of some explosive, exciting action, then going back in time to explain how we got here. Or maybe there’s a stand-alone scene with a shocking twist. Or something attention-grabbing like “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”
Why is this scene here?
That’s the other thing – most stories don’t tell you everything that happened with this guy, then move on to tell you everything that happened with this woman, then… They switch between characters, situations and locations, telling the tale in an order determined by the writer. Next time you’re watching your favourite show, pay attention to what goes where.
Where are the cuts?
And while you’re at it, think about when we cut away from one scene to another. Depending on the story, it might be on a cliffhanger line, when someone reveals something new (but before we see the other person’s reaction) or something else. If you’re a fan of Vikings, you’ll often see them cut between two locations over and over again, spending 20-30 seconds in each spot before moving on, to tell two parallel stories.
How does it all wrap up?
You’re at the end of the story (or episode, or chapter, or off-Broadway intermission…). How does it end? Is there a final scene that adds some meaning or flavour? What did the creator want you to go away thinking or feeling? If it’s been a long story, it’s often interesting to go back and reread/watch the opening section again. Is there anything that was vague at the time but now makes sense? What has changed?
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