Following up on yesterday’s post about a script’s opening sequence, it makes sense to chase it up with a few words on the first ten pages. Those familiar with screenwriting gurus & the books & tired readers/execs will know that they proclaim ‘make sure something happens in the first ten pages of your script’. This is true but I think it is a much misunderstood notion. Most take it to mean that you should put in a car crash, an explosion, a scary chase or whatever. You may hear phrases mentioned like the ‘inciting incident’ or the ‘obligatory scene’. But I don’t necessarily follow these guidelines.
As a script reader, what I’m looking for, first and foremost, is evidence that the writer can write and that he (or she) is in full command of his story. It will come as no surprise to learn that most scripts are poorly written. A reader/exec will automatically know from the script’s first 10 pages if it’s good or bad, regardless of what happens. But this will be evident from the first page, never mind trawling through ten of them. Again, most are tempted to start with a bang to show that they can dazzle with their visual flair and visceral action but generally, their basic command of English is poor and they will offer a general lack of basic storytelling techniques.
Let’s say, for example, that the first ten pages of your script contain three scenes. A man and wife at breakfast. The man driving to work. And the man at his office desk. Not exactly scintillating, inviting or dramatic right? But it’s how the writer dramatically conveys these scenes in the first ten pages that snags the reader’s interest, or emotionally attaches himself to the characters, or knows from the writing that the author is building up to something that I’ll want to stick around for. The tone may be gloomy as hell or comically light but if the writer displays a discerning touch to his description and dramatic exposition, then I know I’m going to be still interested by page 110.
The three scene scenario above doesn’t sound very appealing but it could fall into any genre depending on the writer’s talent and intentions. It could be a domestic drama where a marriage is falling apart. Or a thriller where the wife is going to be kidnapped and the husband will go to great lengths to save her. Or a comedy where the husband falls in love with his cleaner, or whatever.
Now I’m not dismissing a riveting first 10 pages for any second. One of the best opening sequences that I can remember off the top of my head is the original Scream where Drew Barrymore is tormented and murdered on the phone. Terrific. But it was a horror. It set the tone, made you scared as hell and grabbed your attention. Some horrors are slow burners (or supernatural thrillers) so they will labour on mood and intent for a good half hour before anything really startling happens.
So it all depends on the genre of your script and the style of your story. I think, at the very least, the first ten pages should set the tone so the reader recognises what territory he’s in (again, this will usually be evident in the very first page). It should not contain any typos or spelling mistakes of any description. And all possessive apostrophes should be used correctly. That’s being anal I know but I swear, in every excellent script I read, there’s not a spelling blemish amongst them. Clean, polished, professional.
I’ll stop now as I don’t want the rant to go on and on so I’ll probably come back to the subject in subsequent posts or in responding to any questions that may pop up.
How To Jump-Start Your Script
My First Ten Pages