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Screenwriting Structure Series Part 9: Your First Ten Pages & The Hook

By The Unknown Screenwriter

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You got that hook, right? You know... That thing that happens somewhere in the first ten pages that makes me wonder if I turned the oven off? Closed the garage door? Put the cats out? Fed the dogs? Locked the car?

Why does your hook make me wonder about all these things? Because I don't want to be interrupted as I read through the rest of your screenplay. I want to unplug my phone so that everyone who wants to borrow money from me can't get through.

Your hook did that to me. It gave me goose bumps. It made me settle myself down and get really really comfortable in preparation for the rest of the ride.

That something that I can immediately understand and captures my interest. Your hook doesn't have to be anything other than something that gets me interested in going on with your screenplay or movie. It should be commensurate with your genre and story but it doesn't necessarily have to be about your story.

It could be something that your Protagonist just completed from another adventure. It could be your Antagonist doing something we've never seen before. It could be a minor character that exposes themselves to some vague obstacle that you'll flesh out to us later on. It could be an arrival. Somebody or something comes to town. How about a death? What about your theme? What about your Protagonist's flaw? Hell, maybe you just want to introduce your Protagonist...

It's all good.

Can you hook us in ten pages? How about five? The sooner the better?

Your hook doesn't have to scare me. Doesn't have to abhor me. Doesn't have to surprise me. Doesn't have to make me fall in love. Doesn't have to make me feel happy or sad.

It just has to hook me.

Make me turn the page but be careful... Lots of specs are written (today) to be read and not made into a film. Don't do that. Don't write a book. Don't watch your characters in your mind's eye and then relay that information to us. Relaying information is passing that information along. Past tense. He is doing this or she is doing that.

Tell me what's happening right now - as it happens. He does or she does. I want to be there with your character. I want to observe him or her through my very own reality television camera. Mine's set up on a Steadicam and I'm the operator. Make me use it. Make me do things with that Steadicam that I've never done before. See things I've never seen before.

Write visually. Write it to be filmed. Write it to play.

Maybe your hook brings up some question that I know I have to have answered by the end of your movie. That question could be about your Protagonist, Antagonist, theme, or even be the central question that needs to be resolved by the end of your movie.

Don't want to give too much away? Hook me with a visual. Some image that makes me question the universe of your story. Spoon feed me just enough information to make me lean forward for another bite and pull it away. Force me to follow. Give me no other choice.

Hook me.

Is your hook some kind of backstory? Some piece of relevant information that we can't do without? Maybe it's just the introduction of your Protagonist's status quo. His or her ordinary world. What is there about their world that will hook me?

Find it.

Maybe you want to set up a few things that you'll pay off later on down the road. I can get behind that. Just be sure you do in fact pay them off. Is your hook something that one of your lead characters want? Or, is it something that keeps them from getting what they want?

Hmmm.

Maybe you need to show us how your Protagonist or some other lead character is quintessential. Maybe he or she is the quintessential cop, private detective, drunk private detective, homeless, student, cheating spouse, car mechanic, soldier, sailor, marine, teacher, doctor, janitor, spy...

Get it?

Don't start your ten pages off with talking heads. Don't show me two characters standing in frame just shooting the breeze. I don't give a damn what you got'em talkin' about - I promise you that's not gonna hook me. If you must have two heads talking, please, please give them something else to do while they talk. I don't care if one of 'em is just swatting flies - just give 'em something to do. This is such a pet peeve of mine but really... Don't do it. LOL. The more visual the something you give them to do, the better.

I've agreed to read your screenplay or watch your movie. You've agreed to give me something worth my investment. We've struck a deal. Don't welsh on our deal. Stick to the deal. Suspend my disbelief. Use subtext. Show me something that requires me to think about what you just showed me. When your characters speak, don't let me just hear their words and think their words.

Let me hear their words and think to myself, he or she is really telling me something else. Something not on the surface. Something not on the nose. Something deeper.

Reveal character through your character's dialogue. Maybe he's an idiot. Reveal that. Maybe she's a romantic. Reveal that. Maybe he's a republican. Reveal it.

Your hook helps kick your story into motion - reveals conflict - can be fun - generates interest in your premise.

Hook me with two characters that are the exact opposite of each other. That's always interesting and catches our interest especially if you can really figure out a couple of opposites we've never seen before. Maybe it's just one character who is opposite of his or her current self.

Put familiar against unfamiliar and you have instant conflict every time. Conflict is interesting. It's why we take an interest. It's why we watch.

Try to release your hook as early as possible to grab us... We want you to do that. That's our deal. I invest, you pay off...

With interest.

No not all movies have that hook but you're trying to sell a script, right?

Hook me.

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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