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The #1 Question Writers Need To Ask Of Their Writing (Do It!!)

The Question You Need To Ask

So a couple of weeks ago, I published an article, Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make On Their Page 1 Of Their Screenplays. In the article I gave two examples of (fake) screenplays that had issues.

I also posted these script examples to the B2W social media, asking the Bang2writers ‘What’s wrong with THIS page 1?’ (below).

Here’s what the Bangers said …

  • ‘Not enough details about Katie – is she the protagonist? If so, what is she wearing? What music is she listening to?’
  • ‘Missing character descriptions’
  • ‘It says INT when it should be EXT’ 
  • ‘It mentions the train station in the scene heading AND the first line of description, that’s redundant’ 
  • ‘What is doom scrolling?’ 
  • ‘It’s boring AF! Really rigid and flat’ 

Whilst all of the reactions above are more or less correct, they’re actually the least of the script’s problems. (A few Bangers said the script was ‘fine’ or even ‘good’!).

Script Example # 2

Let’s look at the second example and what the Bangers said about that one.

Like before, I shared it to the B2W social media and asked the same question, ‘What’s wrong with THIS on page 1?‘ (This time I also wrote ‘this is not a trick question’ as well).

Here’s what the Bangers said in response …

  • ‘Tells us nothing about the characters’ 
  • ‘Lack of visuals’ 
  • ”Melanie’ should be in CAPITALS since it’s the first time we meet her’
  • ‘Melanie is a stereotypical wife character, doing chores’
  • ‘The man talks first AND seems to be actually doing something! Boo’
  • ‘Derek seems like a dick’
  • ‘It’s boring again!’ 

In contrast to the first example, the Bangers were a LOT closer on why scripts shouldn’t open with character introductions as standard. However, the vast majority found themselves distracted again by format issues, or the latent sexism.

So, What’s REALLY Wrong With These Pages?

Importantly, nearly all the Bangers knew the sample scripts were problematic. Most knew the scripts had issues, but really struggled to describe WHY they felt this way. This meant they ended up hyper-focusing on stuff that doesn’t really matter (like screenplay format).

This is especially ironic when we consider spec screenwriters frequently complain about script readers doing this online. That’s one of the reasons I created the B2W Funnel, in order to ‘reader-proof’ our screenplays.

Note how format is at the BOTTOM of the B2W funnel. This is because it’s ‘surface level’ in that we can always clean it up later. It’s not something we have to worry about at the beginning of writing our stories.

Instead, the red zone is the most important – which is why I put it as ‘stage one’. Concept, characters and structure are what I call ‘The Holy Trinity’ of writing. If you don’t have those, you got nuthin’. They literally underpin everything.

So, even we all know that screenplay format is ‘the least we can do’, it still ends up the thing too many people focus on most. This is why I always talk about not getting ‘busted’ when it comes to screenplay format.

But what about the middle zone, stage 2?

The answer to BOTH script examples’ problems is in the orange zone on the B2W Funnel:

  • Writer’s Voice. The first example is bland and vanilla. The second is sexist. Neither is a good look for a script on p1.
  • Visual Potential. A railway station is not only boring, it’s rare that a produced show or movie starts in one. Think about it … when was the last time you saw a character take a journey in a train or bus as the very first scene? It’s ‘every day’ and not compelling. The same goes for characters in their own houses doing stuff like chores. Yawnsome AF.
  • Scene Openers.  When the scene’s setting is not compelling, this impacts a writer’s ability to begin with a strong visual. That doesn’t mean you have to start with something shocking, either. Just give us a sense of the storyworld, time, genre.
  • Scene Description. The scene description is one of the major elements contributing to the ‘bland’ and ‘vanilla’ issue.
  • Dialogue. Whilst the first example had no dialogue, the second started with Derek telling Melanie to get a job. This is not an issue if we’re supposed to hate Derek, but what if we’re not? Also, what genre is this? If it’s a drama it could work, but what if this was a comedy? Or a thriller? Or a Horror?

In other words, we need to stop taking page at face value!!!

Instead, we need to ask ourselves a very, very important question every time we look at our own scripts (or other people’s). More, after the jump.

So, The #1 Question is …?

It’s very simple, yet it’s one writers – and script readers! – consistently miss out in their process.

The question we should ALL be asking of every single script we write or that comes across our desk is:

Should the story START here? 

Because too often, the story shouldn’t start where the writer has begun on page 1! If we don’t ask it, it doesn’t matter if we flag up other stuff like …

  • Screenplay formatting issues
  • Stereotypical characters
  • Boring settings
  • Lack of visuals/ set dressing
  • Terrible dialogue
  • Bad scene description

The above is what I mean when I warn writers not to ‘move words around on the page’. Tweaking and polishing any of the above won’t matter if your story has started in the ‘wrong’ place (whatever that means).

In both examples, those beginnings were boring AF but the Bangers took the pages at face value. In other words, they simply accepted that’s where the script SHOULD start because that’s what the writer – me! – had chosen.

Yet as feedback-givers, we should always challenge writers on their creative choices, especially on p1. But ‘challenging’ creative choices doesn’t mean being harsh.

A question like, ‘should the story start here?‘ can be a really powerful tool in the script reader and feedback-giver’s arsenal. Such a question can also help us work out if we’ve started in the ‘right’ place in our own scripts too.

Good Luck!

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