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Screenwriting Structure Series Part 8: Your First Ten Pages

By The Unknown Screenwriter

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Previous Article in series.

So where were we? We discussed how you really shouldn't be confusing genre with structure... Cool. Let's get back to story real quick... What is a story? A story - and not necessarily a story for a screenplay - is pretty much when something comes along to disturb the status quo.

So we start out with a status quo, or the Protagonist's ordinary world. Something comes along to disturb that status quo... The inciting incident. Now this disturbance has to be quashed so that we end up with a new status quo. Not the same ol' same ol' status quo but something just a little different than what we started out from.

That's story and as a matter of fact - a way to structure your story.
  • Establish a status quo
  • Bring in a disturbance that disrupts the status quo
  • Fight, subdue, defeat, conquer the disturbance
  • Establish a new status quo
Whew... If it were only that easy. LOL.

So let's go back to the common screenwriting structual elements and flesh them out just a bit more so that we understand why they are so important to have in our screenplay...

Ah but before I go on, let me once again toss in my little disclaimer. This is what I believe to be true. These are the structural elements that I perceive to be important to a film because these structural elements grab us by the throat and catapult us to the next beat, scene, or sequence of the story. In other words, if you don't - at a minimum - concentrate on these elements, don't expect that big pay day to be happening any time soon.

Your first 10 pages!

I know you've heard it before and while this isn't exactly considered a structural element per se - I like to include it as such because it really has become so important today in the world of spec screenwriting. Having said that however, there's certainly nothing wrong with having the first 10 pages be really really good and that goes for anyone writing any kind of screenplay.

I remember when the first 10 pages kinda started out as this devious little trick to get the reader of your screenplay so engrossed in what he or she was reading that he or she simply couldn't bear to put it down... They just had to keep reading!

And while I for one still subscribe to that way of thinking when it comes to the first 10 pages - I now think that the first 10 pages are so essential that I like to make them part of my own screenwriting structure.

These first 10 pages have to grab the reader and hopefully, your audience - and inject them with quite a few things but probably most important of all? These 10 pages have to send a clear message to the reader and your audience that they are in for the read and or movie of their lives! These 10 pages need to scream out to the reader and audience that everything they ever thought they knew about screenplays and movies is now going out the window because Baby... You ain't seen nothing yet!

Now before we go on, think about what I just wrote. What was the last movie or screenplay you wrote that made you think or feel this way? Be honest. Be truthful. Be serious. Don't sit there and tell me that the movies we see in the theater don't really do this to us so of course we don't have to do this either with our own screenplays.

If you're one of those people that do not believe in competition... Whew. I feel for ya and maybe, just maybe you need to rethink your career option because spec screenwriting is competition of the fiercest kind.

I make note of this because somehow, a lot of the scripts I read never really feel like they're competing. It's more like they just showed up. Screenwriting competition and no, I do not mean screenwriting contests - is not for everyone. It's definitely not for the purists who are not willing to scrap it all, sit back and dig in deep and start getting creative.

Are there any kind of competitions you like to watch? Either in person or on television? Take your pick of competitions. Most of the time, you must admit that the competitors definitely bring it to the audience, right? They put on one hell of a show or at least they sure as hell try to put on one hell of a show.

Why aren't you doing that with your screenplay? Why do you think it's just good enough instead of better than anything else out there? Is this horse dead yet? LOL. Nope. Not until I get it through your head that you are a competitor! You are competing! You have to symbolically inject your own kind of steroids into your screenwriting just like the baseball players do right before the game!

Ouch.

You gotta give it all you got or it's just not worth writing. It's got to be different yet similar. It's got to grab as wide an audience as possible and somehow persuade them to invest the rest of their 90 minutes to 2 and a half hours into your script and ultimately, your movie.

That's right... Even if you're writing a little Indie film, why not make those first 10 pages out of this world? It doesn't have to be all action. It doesn't have to be all dialogue. It just has to be great! It has to give me goose bumps. It has to split my brain in two - make me glad I bought my ticket yet at the same time, make me wonder what's gonna happen next.

Do you want to know the best part about all this? No? Well I'm gonna tell ya anyway. We all want your screenplay and movie to do this to us! Yup. As a producer, I want your screenplay to grab me. I want to read the best damn screenplay that I've ever read before. As an audience member, I want my rollercoaster ride! I want to walk out of your movie and tell my friends! I want your story... Your screenplay... Your movie... To disrupt my status quo and by the end, establish a new status quo for me.

You can do this with your first ten pages. You must do this with your first 10 pages! If you want the likes of people like me to read the entire script then you've got to frontload like there's no tomorrow! You want to take my breath away!

If you're not doing this with your first 10 pages then what makes you think you can compete with those who are?

So by now you're maybe wondering what all goes into those first 10 pages...

That's for next time

Next Article in series.

About The Unknown Screenwriter

A working screenwriter and producer, The Unknown Screenwriter makes his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and somewhere in the state of New Mexico with just a little bit of Los Angeles thrown in when he feels he can breathe the air.

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