Everywhere we look, screenwriters are advised to make their ten pages absolutely rock. And this is good advice, since if you write a “good” ten pages, chances are your draft will get a full read at that agent’s, prodco, initiative or contest.
Knowing what “good” means in terms of the first ten pages is half the battle … So here are my thoughts on how to judge your own work from a script reader’s POV:
1. WHO are the characters?
Whether TV script or feature, by page 10, we need to know who the main characters are – and by “main characters” I mean protagonist and antagonist. Regardless of genre, that is non-negotiable*. Yes, yes, in years gone by we had more leeway and John Book arrived 15 minutes into WITNESS, yadayadayadawhydon’tyoucryaboutit.
C’MON! Audiences wanna know who is who and they wanna know it NOW: I’m not in charge of all the audiences in the world! If you want to challenge this viewpoint, make your own damn film and kidnap a few hundred people and make them watch it CLOCKWORK ORANGE-style why don’t you? Or just put the protagonist and antagonist upfront in your spec. Whatevs. Thanks. (*Except when it is, because you knock the reader out the park for some other reason and they completely don’t notice your protagonist is late. What?? It is possible.)
2. WHAT do the characters need/want?
We don’t watch television or movies simply about characters who do nothing all day for hours and hours. We want to watch stories of characters who DO STUFF. But they don’t do stuff randomly either; they do stuff for particular reasons cos they want or need something else. Sometimes that reason will change or they end up doing something else. But whatever happens, the reader needs to know what your characters want and why within the first ten pages. Now this really is non-negotiable and you can’t opt out via arm wrestling agents and producers over it. Though you could try. In fact, please do. We’ll film it for London Screenwriters Festival. Who’s in?
3. WHERE are we?
Start as you mean to go on. Don’t forget that all important opening IMAGE. Remember that genre, tone, convention, theme – all are part of the story world we are in. But don’t go ticking boxes on us either, else readers will go postal. We may like “the same, but different” – but emphasis is on the DIFFERENT. We don’t want endless rehashes of the same story. Mmmmm hash. What? Hash browns, obviously! What did *you* think I thinking about? FFS. See More . . .