A screenplay’s first 10 pages are key

So you’ve finished your screenplay and are ready to shop it around, but how exactly do you know when your screenplay is ready to stand out in the crowded market? Start with the “First 10 Pages Challenge.” Give the first 10 pages to a variety of friends — not all need be trained screenwriters — and ask them to summarize what they think the story is about. They should be able to identify some key story elements that should be present in the first 10 pages of any entertaining feature script:

  • Is the genre easily identifiable? Does the tone of your writing reflect comedy, drama, suspense, horror or whatever the genre of your story?
  • Is the main character easily identifiable? Whose story is it? What does the main character want? What does the main character need?
  • Is the plot obvious? Or, in the very least, what is the story likely to be about?
  • Is theme reflected in your opening scenes?

Also ask your readers if they care about the main character and if your screenplay has hooked them to the extent they want to know what happens next.

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Ultimately you, the writer, need to understand to what degree your friends, the audience, were entertained. If you wrote a comedy but there were no funny moments in the first 10 pages, then you did not write a comedy. Likewise, if you wrote a horror script, there should be an ominous tone underlying your first 10 pages.

Remember, screenplays are blueprints for production, so it is important to quickly and succinctly convey as much about your story as possible:

  • Minimal dialogue is good; anything longer than two lines likely can be shortened.
  • Succinct action descriptions are good; anything longer than four lines should be shortened or split into separate paragraphs.

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Do what you can to make the first 10 pages a fast, fun read, and extend that effort to the rest of your script. It’s critical to get feedback on your writing before introducing it to the industry. Then get feedback from someone who is active in the industry to ensure your material meets industry standards. Enter a contest with production companies attached to read the finalists’ screenplays. Pay for industry coverage. Have any friends who are actors? Ask them for feedback.

Such professional feedback is critical because you may be so attached to your story — it may be 100 percent clear in your mind — that you may be unable to judge your ability to translate your story onto the page. And if it’s not all on the page — if you haven’t written with utmost clarity — your story will be misunderstood, under appreciated, and, worse, discarded.

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