I’ve lost count over the years of how many writers have told me readers *can’t* know their story from the first ten pages. Those writers complain it’s not enough time and that readers are nasty creatures who form premature and false assumptions about the writing in front of them. It’s not fair, etc.
Well I have news for you. Readers don’t just form a judgement in ten pages – they form it in ONE page.
That’s right. ONE.
And you know what? So do you. How many times have you opened a book and read the first few paragraphs or sentences when deciding to buy it, or take it out the library? I don’t believe you *never* have.
And it’s the same for script readers. We will open the first page or scroll down to the first in a PDF and form that same judgement. Because we’re only human. And from glancing at HOW you’ve written that first page, based on our experience of reading scripts, we will form any number of opinions.
We *may* think:
1) Your script looks like crap. If you’ve not paid attention to the forty three billion pages (actual number) on the internet dedicated to the “right” script format, then shame on you. Here’s a huge rundown for you, in case you want to double check.
2) Your script looks great! Wow, a screenplay that actually looks like a screenplay. That’s a good start. How nice to begin a script without *that* sinking feeling. Yay!
3) Your script starts with a yawnsome opener. Well the screenplay *looks* like a screenplay, sure, which would’ve been a good start but OH LOOK – it starts with an alarm clock and the protagonist brushing his/her teeth and blundering about, or one of the other many openers that make us want to pluck out our eyes. Oh and here’s another handy list of cliched openers, courtesy of Danny Stack.
4) Your protagonist is MIA. Where is s/he? Who is it? Who knows – because the screenplay has some mad prologue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere, so we’re waiting for the story to start and for whoever it’s supposed to be about to turn up. Cue that SINKING FEELING again.
5) Your dialogue is obnoxious. Get this through your heads – going OTT with the words “Fuck” or “C***” from the offset does not make your script stand out. It’s not controversial. It’s just obnoxious. And post FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and SEXY BEAST, boring. Very, very boring.
6) You don’t know how to use storytelling devices. If you start the FIRST PAGE with a “Flashback”, tell me this: what the hell are we flashing back *from*? Equally, if you start with a dream sequence, it better be for a BLOODY GOOD reason, not just so your protagonist can wake up (via an alarm clock so s/he can blunder about brushing his/her teeth). Please use Voiceover WISELY. And start with a montage of a cityscape or passing seasons OVER MY DEAD BODY, BITCHES! (Here are good examples of storytelling devices).
7) And yes, we will think the following, from the first page:
i)You’re a bad writer. Any of the above? BAAAAAAD! (Okay, maybe not number 2, but right format is really the VERY LEAST you should be doing, tsk).
ii) You’re a good writer. Avoid the average pitfalls like I’ve just listed and you’re in with a chance. Really. So don’t mess up the next 9 pages and you’ll be in with a full read … and who knows what else.
So go for it!
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