The terror of the first 10 pages
I’ve just started rewriting a thriller – and I’m feeling the pressure of the first 10 pages more than ever.
Perhaps it’s because this script is a taut thriller, there is a lot to set up and accomplish in the first pages – while seeming effortless, stunningly original, gripping, dazzling, recherché etc. (which of course it will be).
The thriller genre seems to have spilled over into my editing, making sitting on a swivel chair in front of a computer seem like a white knuckle car chase with Robert McKee and Syd Field in hot pursuit.
In countless blog posts, in just about every screenwriting book – and on every film-making course worth its salt – I’ve had it drummed into me over and over again how key the first 10 pages of a script are.
Those seemingly unicorn-esque 10 pages have to (in no particular order):
- Be immediately exciting and engaging
- Introduce the protagonist
- Introduce the theme of the story
- Establish the world (and possibly rules of the world)
- Introduce the central problem the protagonist faces
- Set up the dramatic premise
- Not include too much exposition, or obvious exposition
- Include the inciting incident
- Hook the reader so they don’t give up on the script, or you, the writer
- Make the reader desperate to turn to page 11
All of this in 10 pages. Oh, and don’t forget the golden rule that black ink is bad, and white space is good.
And don’t even dare think about spelling and grammatical errors in the first 10 pages – and don’t even think about thinking about committing a formatting transgression.
Do that and you may as well submit 10 pages of drunken ramblings and inappropriate erotic sketches (been there, done that).
So taking all that into account, there’s not a huge amount of wriggle-room, but lots of room for script-jeopardising japery.
It’s enough to make anyone lie down in a darkened room with a cold flannel over their face.
So why do it?
This isn’t a facetious question (well not completely). After piling the pressure on myself to get those precious pages right over countless hours, I’ve decided to skip the first 10 pages and turn straight to page 11.
I’ve done a first draft of my scenes, set out the dramatic turns and how the conflict will work and build, and even outlined my transitions – but the pressure of getting those first pages note-perfect right from the start only serves to drag me into an editing quagmire that distracts from getting the overall script right, so I’m going to leave them till the very end.
Then I’ll make them perfect. You’ll see. And then I’ll worry about the other 80 pages. Again. And again. And again…
Photo by Myat Lone on Unsplash