Advertisements

Being a Hooker – The First 10 Pages by Serita Stevens ©

 

 

When a long time friend got into an argument with another friend about the  myth of the first ten pages, I had to step in.  Having, as a BIG favor, read his script, I had to agree that indeed the first ten were crucial.

It’s often said that readers – script or book – will give you ten pages to prove yourself as a writer and get them engaged enough to continue reading.  Maybe book readers might give you a chapter before they put it down, but file it in the circular container they will if you cannot follow the dictates and needs of today’s readers.  This is especially true here in Hollywood where 1:4 people – maybe more – have a script in their drawers and readers are swamped with material. 

In fact, talking to various readers they say that they can after only one or two pages determine if you are a professional writer.  They know this by how you introduce the character, establish the point of view, make him likeable, set up the world, the problem that the character must solve, and their obstacles. 

My friend’s script meandered, did not make clear who the main character was, what her problem was  (I didn’t learn that until page 25 — and if I had not promised to read it for him I would have put it down long ago!)  and what her obstacles were.  He also had numerous transitions scenes that were unnecessary for the story – her getting into the car, making dinner and even going to the bathroom – none of which moved the story forward. 

At one time, when books were king and authors like Charles Dickens had the leisure to slowly draw us into the world things were different.  People had time then.  These days with everything that demands our attention, time is something we give grudgingly and we are easily distracted and pulled away from stories that move slow. 

Readers today want instant excitement, engagement and concern.   In my workbook – The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books and Scripts – based on my teaching at various universities and conferences – my chapter on beginnings says that we must be hookers.  We, the writer, must hook the reader with “sexy” active words, showing not telling and only hints of the background.  I don’t care if the science fiction palace has 4 or 10 columns; what the dress is or even the physical description of the characters – unless those are crucial to the story.  I do care what the characters first actions and reactions are.  That is how we get to know our hero and antagonist.  

In scripts, where every word counts, the writer must be a minimalist.  We don’t need to know about the velvet drapes or the oak desk – unless they are crucial to the story.  You can just say an ornate room with Jacobean furniture  and let the set designer decide.  Part of that is because scripts are a team effort and not a sole job as many books are.  They have to be a reading experience, but not overwhelming with long passages of description, dialogue, or back-story.

Even with books too many novice writers start with a flashback – or what they believe to be a flashback. (However, you cannot flash back to a scene when you haven’t started yet, when you haven’t engaged us  in the  character and his problem yet.)  Or they start with pages and pages of back story (how the character came to where he is now) when that is better dripped into the story by bits and pieces once we have already identified with the character and decided we want to follow him.   

One of my recent students kept on having the protagonist philosophize Christian ideals.  All well and good but preaching will not endear you to the reader.  It will only turn them off.  The character must learn these lessons the hard way and not spout them off pushing them on the teacher.

They tell us things that don’t matter like the clothes the character wears (that’s only important if it gives us insight into the character – like creases are in perfect place which means he might be OCD or torn jeans and wrinkled clothes which could mean he is poor – unless the jeans are designer – or that he just doesn’t care, but they don’t show us the emotions of the character that we can relate to and identify with.  Their writing is passive rather than active.  (He is running vs he ran.)  They have not yet learned to start with an action that will involve us in the character’s life.   They bore us with physical traits of blond hair and blue eyes when that doesn’t really matter to who the character is or how he reacts.

The first ten pages will not only hook your reader into caring about your character, establish some of the problem and the background, but they will also keep the editor from throwing your story into the reject pile. 


 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

Content | Menu | Access panel
The Writers Newsletter
Assign a menu in the Left Menu options.
Assign a menu in the Right Menu options.