Script Writing: The First Ten Pages

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A lot of screenwriting contest are open in the Fall.

I thought I’d give some pointers for scriptwriters about the beginnings of a film story.  There are plenty of places to read about three-act structure, plot points, etc.  But, what is the key to writing the beginning, a beginning the grabs attention?

In the first ten pages of your script you introduce the audience to your story world…visually.  Begin with an image, an image that sets the tone for the entire story.

If you haven’t already settled on an ending to your script, now is the time to do it. If you don’t know where the script is going, how will you determine which pieces of information to highlight at the beginning?  You have about ten pages to convince your audience that the film (your story) is worth watching.

The first ten pages provide the initial basis on which to judge the rest of the story.  These pages provide just enough information to establish the story world clearly without giving away too much, too early.  Now is the time to create just enough mystery to keep the audience wondering what is in store.

Write tight because you have a lot to accomplish in a very short space:

  • Introduce the main characters
  • Establish the primary environments
  • Convey a distinct mood or atmosphere
  • Establish the time period
  • Illustrate a routine or way of life
  • Provide any relevant backstory (events that transpired before the story began) if necessary
  • Introduce the antagonist

And, whew! If that’s not enough you should arrive at the inciting incident at around page 10.  Your story’s first turning point.  Generally this happens in one of three ways:

  • An action plunges the characters into conflict.
  • A piece of critical information arrives.
  • A sequence of small events prepares an audience for the story.

The audience needs to know what your characters want and what could prevent them from getting what they want.  Those questions make up the story’s premise, what the story is about.

The question for the audience at this point—page 10, the inciting incident, the catalyst—is will your protagonist succeed.  Will the protagonist win his goal?  Will he succeed?  Will the antagonist prevail?

As a writer, that is your landing point for page 10.  It’s the story beginning.  Now, you have roughly 100 pages more to get to the answer.

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