The first 10 pages of a script are the most important – that’s the amount of time you have to convince a reader to continue reading your screenplay. If you haven’t presented an engaging and riveting story by then – chances are you’ve lost your reader. He’ll either be bored or confused, or both.
By the end of the first 10 pages, the reader should know what the story is about, who the lead character is, what his or her goal is, the initial obstacle to that goal, and what is at stake.
In the first 10 pages (roughly 10 minutes of film time) you want to introduce, in a clear and compelling way, specific story elements that will entice a reader to keep turning the page. Those essential elements include revealing, introducing, or addressing:
- The protagonist
- The antagonist
- The central conflict
- The stakes
- The setting or “world”
- The tone
An example is the first 10 pages of the screenplay for the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The script, written by James Cameron and William Wisher, hit all the “essential” elements within the first few opening scenes.
Pages 1 – 3:
- The central conflict and dramatic question are introduced.
- The stakes are revealed.
- The tone is set.
- The “world” is presented.
Pages 4 - 8:
- The antagonist, the T-1000, and the ally, the original Terminator, are introduced.
- The conflict increases.
- Additional information regarding the “world” is presented.
Pages 8 - 10
- The protagonist, John Connor, and an additional ally, his mother Sarah, are introduced.
- The conflict continues to rise.
3 Exercises to Help You Enter Your Story Effectively
Exercise 1: Read the opening scenes of your script and identify which essential elements are revealed in the first 10 pages or so - you don’t want to “force” your story, but obviously the more “essential” elements that are presented early in the script, the more likely the story will capture and hold a reader’s interest.
Exercise 2: Review the first 10 pages of your script and describe, page-by-page, what happens in the story. Is what happens in the first few scenes engaging? Is the presentation of what’s happening in these scenes arranged effectively to provide the most impact or could what’s happening be presented later in the story to allow for more essential elements to be revealed earlier?
Exercise 3: Read a few of your favorite scripts (or watch the films) to see how the screenwriters entered the story. Note which elements were presented in the first 10 pages and how they were revealed. Did the screenwriter do an effective job of hooking you within the first 10 minutes?