We hear loads about the judgements made on our first ten pages, but spend even a short while as a script reader and you’ll see in real terms many scripts don’t even make it past the first PAGE.
Le shock! How can this be??? It’s very simple. The writers whose scripts don’t even make it past the first page are those who have made some cardinal sin: the wrong format is obvious, as is a plethora of black on the page. But perhaps more importantly, there are scripts with cliched, bad or just plain DULL openers.
First off, what do I mean by “opener”? Well, in this case I don’t even mean the entire first page, but the FIRST IMAGE we see. Every script should open WELL, giving the reader some sense of the tone of the story and what’s to come. Yet shockingly, a huuuuuuuge amount of writers open on random things, events and objects and confess to readers like me they “hadn’t really thought” of that first image.
Yet the first image you choose to show us in your story is VITAL in gauging the reader’s interest. On this basis then, here are my top 5 groan-worthy first images I see again and again which make me want to PLUCK MY EYES OUT:
5. The mirror. So… we have a FACE in a MIRROR. It’s your main character, considering their own REFLECTION! Nice! It gives us the impression they have some kind of problem and aren’t shallow Hollywood-type characters. Right?? Um, no. It’s just boring. Particularly seen with female characters and dramas.
4. The windscreen wipers. The windscreen wipers, going full pelt as rain comes down might be atmospheric, but it’s huuuuugely overdone in supernatural thrillers and horror. And weirdly, these wipers/rain are rarely connected to the problem that comes next – ie. an accident that propels the characters into the conflict, so the reader is left wondering: “Why start here with THIS image?”
3. Walking. This one – walking feet, usually on a pavement – can turn up in ANY genre. So your character’s walking down the street. Yeah man: this is one cool dude. He’s waaaaaaallking! Note to self writers: walking down the street gives the reader very little clue *about* your character. REALLY. Yes, that includes if he’s meandering, striding, ambling, WHATEVER. Please stop it! Introduce us to your character doing something INTERESTING. If that *includes* walking, then great, but don’t make walking the FOCUS ‘cos it’s DULL.
2. Alarm clocks. So here we go… Tick, tick, BOOM: alarm goes and character’s hand appears, slamming the alarm. We then proceed to see said character get ready for the day. OMG REALLY?? This has been around for yeeeeeeeeears and though it *is* receding at last, it still pops up with enough annoying regularity to make me want to stab myself in the leg with a fork. The biggest offender here is comedy, but the alarm clock *could* turn up as a first image in just about ANY genre, particularly spec TV pilots.
1. Blackness. This has popped up in earnest in the last two to three years that I’ve noticed. Basically we start with a BLACK SCREEN. That’s right! No first image AT ALL. Usually there is a voice-over the top, sometimes a sound effect, sometimes both. And what’s wrong with that? Nothing really – it *could* be okay, but its main issue is its ubiquity. It is EVERYWHERE: spec TV pilots, features, shorts, you name it.
We all know first impressions count for a lot in this biz – sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. Whatevs. We have ONE CHANCE to impress. But what’s the likelihood of impressing if the first thing a reader does when they see your very first image is groan, “Seen it before, a million times?”
Always think of that FIRST image, let the reader know the tone of your story and give them an idea of what’s coming next. And most of all, be original.