You could call it love first sight, a surprising consequence given that I am a happily married gay man. But after just one evening with The Good Wife (TGF), albeit several years into its 7-season run, I was a goner. And as I speed thorough the seasons now, racing to complete the journey – no spoilers please – I find myself repeatedly returning to the opening sequence, marveling at how it so concisely captured the essential story question, and so compellingly bound the audience to its central character. Finally, after years of advice on the importance of an essential hook in the first five pages, or first seventeen lines, (or whatever narrowing margin is now demanded), I have found an example to which I relate, drawn from the vein of human drama I too wish to draw mine.
My interest is piqued by a pressing dilemma. You see, my current work in progress has three major characters, each offering a potential entry into the story. And so I’ve been on a quest, sampling not only books but also movies and television, exploring how the best manage to grab their audience viscerally while also cutting to the quick of the underlying emotional journey. In gathering evidence, here are a few lessons drawn from my new flame, Alicia Florrick (and the team of writers who created her), regarding key elements of a successful opening:
A Moment of Intrigue. The Good Wife opens with a blur of images. A well-dressed couple strides purposely over plush floral carpet in an elegant hall, gliding past paneled walls and fine furnishings. Hands clasped, they quicken their pace. Before them a doorman springs to action, ushering their passage into a packed and blindingly lit ballroom. Voices rise and cameras flash as they cross the threshold to an awaiting podium.
– Less than a page in, without a word of dialogue, and questions are percolating. What’s the hurry? Are they late to a reception? Who warrants such over-the-top attention?
The Wreckage You Can’t Ignore. The man begins to speak. But although his delivery is commanding, the scripted remarks come across choppy and forced. The scene crystalizes. Another politician is resigning, hand caught in the cookie jar, spewing vague platitudes about wife and children, sidestepping his own repugnant acts. [Read more…]