Screenwriting Goldmine Awards founder Phil Gladwin shares his top screenwriting tips for your first ten pages.
The beginning of your script is crucial.
If you haven’t hooked this reader by the time they reach page nine, ten, eleven, then you’re in trouble: the piles of scripts loom large, and there’s a strong temptation for any script reader to prejudge the situation, abandon ship and move onto the next.
So do what you can to make your first ten pages engrossing, and engaging – and to generally put a vice-like stranglehold on the reader.
Here are eleven tips to help make this happen. Not all are absolutely essential, and of course there are scripts that survive swimmingly by ignoring most of these ‘rules’, but I do promise that if you can get some of this stuff covered in your first ten pages it won’t hurt.
1. Layout – Courier 12 point always, or the closest equivalent, and always use a standard screenplay layout. The default output from Final Draft, Movie Magic, or the marvellous (and free) WriterDuet.com works perfectly well.
2. Title – Spend the time to make it a good one. It doesn’t hurt to have multiple layers and resonances in there. Really it’s your chance to sell your entire show in one short phrase.
3. Opening image – Begin with a strong visual to set us up, to tell us what the state of the world is at the start of this adventure – and try to make it surprising in some way, to hook us if you can.
4. Start on your Protagonist… …or get to them very quickly indeed after the teaser. Think of your story in this way: “It’s about this woman who…” – “It’s about this guy who…” and structure your script accordingly.
5. Let us see your Antagonist – See if you can get your Antagonist on screen within these ten pages so we know to look out for them. Watch the opening of the start of the US show “The Following” for the ruthlessly efficient way they set the entire series up in five or ten minutes. After that opening you know what the show is, who the good guy is, who the bad guy is, and what it’s about. You may not like the show, but you certainly know where you are with it. That sort of clarity and precision helps you punch through in the spec script pile.
6. Paint a Vivid World – Establish the tone and your world of your script very quickly, and make it strong and interesting. Which means you either have to have done some real world research on a world previously unknown to the audience, or you are showing us a genuinely new angle on a world we all think we know.
7. One Big Question – Try to set up a huge question somewhere that the reader must have answered before they can put the script down. “Can Character X seriously do Y to Character Z?? I must keep reading to find out.” “I thought I understood this, but you just pulled the rug out. This is exciting –– please tell me what’s happening!”
8. Central Conflict – Find a way to let us know what this story is about at a really deep level, so that we really understand what the central conflict will be by page ten.
9. Get Your Story Started – Don’t get so interested in character, laughs, and texture that you let the story drift. Some people call it the inciting incident, others just see it as the point where the story begins. Whatever you call it, within the first ten pages try to let the hare out the bag so that the lead character can start to chase it. (And make sure it’s a hare with enough strength to run to the end of the script.)
10. Surprises – Make the thing ping with surprises. Give us different angles on characters, great dialogue, fresh insights on the world we think we know, plot surprises – and certainly we need at least one really great twist by page 10.
11. Make it new Test each beat. Have we seen this beat on screen before? Are you secretly thinking to yourself, “Yeah, I’ve seen this before, these shows always do this, so I know it works.” If so then rework that beat till it’s genuinely new. Or cut it.
Phil Gladwin, Founder, Screenwriting Goldmine Awards
The Screenwriting Goldmine Awards are currently accepting scripts for our fifth year. The five finalists will have their work read by an astonishing 35 senior industry execs and agents. Doors close on January 31, 2017. More information at: https://awards.screenwritinggoldmine.com