1) It’s not ten pages you get to impress, it’s ONE
Look, I know everyone says the first ten pages is the most important of your screenplay, but this is DIRTY LIE. Fact is, there are so many submissions now that readers are making judgements on PAGE ONE. So your first page has to ROCK, or your screenplay will be returned unread. FACT!
2) It’s gotta LOOK right …
OK, OK … so if readers are making judgements on page one now (and they are!), then what’s the first thing they check? Well, that’s easy: PRESENTATION, which is two-fold. First off, your spelling, grammar and punctuation have gotta pass muster – that’s non-negotiable. This doesn’t mean you’ve got to have the mad writing skillz of Shakespeare and all that lot, but you *do* have get it RIGHT (whatever it is you do). In addition, there’s the obvious: your spec screenplay format must be GOLD, so make sure you check it via The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop.
3) … But writing WELL is what counts!
Readers’ thinking is THIS: a great FIRST page will lead to a fab first TEN pages which *should* lead to a brilliant full draft. Whilst this doesn’t ALWAYS happen of course, there are even less screenplays that start off badly and then become better as they go along. 100% TRUE FACTOID. So don’t kill your script DEAD!!
4) Clichés KILL your screenplay …
You know the saying: familiarity breeds contempt. So, the more FAMILIAR a device, character, scenario or whatever is? The LESS likely it is to grab your reader. Ipso, Fatso as Bart Simpson would say. So STAY AWAY from those clichéd elements, especially in your first 1-10 pages!!
5) You need to know the difference between prologues & teasers!
NEWSFLASH: prologues and teasers are DIFFERENT and perform DIFFERENT NARRATIVE FUNCTIONS. If you don’t know what these two things are, you have no business using one! What’s more, remember this:
i) most teasers in spec screenplays don’t tease
ii) most prologues in spec screenplays are unnecessary
iii) most prologues in spec screenplays are dull/too long
So think VERY carefully about whether you need a teaser or a prologue – and if you decide you do? Then make sure it ROCKS because the reader simply will not forgive a crappy one ‘cos we see too many.
6) You need an OPENER
One of the biggest scene killers any screenwriter can make is not having an OPENER, especially on page 1, but actually, in every scene throughout the screenplay too! Screenwriting is a VISUAL medium, we’re supposed to be writing SCREENplays remember, not screenPLAYS. Guess what *most* specs are??
7) You need to set the TONE and GENRE
Remember that notion of the visual, via the OPENER?? Right … you need to pick IMAGERY that gives us a hint of what kind of story we’re dealing with, in terms of tone and genre. This means Horrors need to open with something foreboding or potentially scary; Thrillers with something potentially thrilling; Comedies with something potentially funny and so on. It doesn’t have to be on-the-nose, but it DOES have to give us a hint of what’s to come (think about your fave movies and shows, how do they open??) BUT one last thing lieutenant – you need to ensure you don’t use clichés to do it (as in point 4 of this list) and you need to hit the ground running, as well.
8) We need to know who your characters ARE
Does page 1 open with your protagonist? If not, WHY NOT? Do we know who the antagonist is by page 10? Do we know what your characters want by page 10? Have we been introduced to the important secondaries? Do we know their role functions in helping or hindering the main roles? If not, why not??
9) Your story’s INTENT needs to be clear
Remember point 3 in this list: if readers don’t at least *think* they know what they’re dealing with (even if this turns out to be a double bluff, as in crime and mystery stories), they WILL stop reading. Never make the reader second guess the actual story. If we don’t know WHAT the story is or WHO we’re dealing with character-wise, we will chuck your script back in the literal or virtual OUT tray!!
10) If you can’t pitch it, it’s DOA!
It’s all very well saying, “It’s the execution that counts” — but it’s NOT! Regardless of how great your screenplay is, you will end up pitching it as a logline (in person, on the page or both) to pique Agents’, Producers’, Filmmakers’ or script readers’ interest! This means you NEED to be able to pitch it in an interesting way, or you’ll NEVER get off the starting blocks and your script will languish on your desktop forever. Harsh but true.
It’s not ten PAGES … it’s TEN PER CENT!!
Here’s a little-talked-about tip: forget about the first ten PAGES and think instead of the first 10% to really focus your screenplay and give it an extra OOMPH. In other words, if you’re writing a 90 pager? Make sure it’s the first 9 pages that introduce everything that’s needed. 60 pages? The first 6. 30 pager? The first 3. 10 pages? Page 1. You won’t regret it!