What’s your first impression?
First things first – what is the impact of your your opener?
Whether that’s the first 5 pages of your feature TV treatment, script, or novel…
Or, how to set the stage for your movie and keep us guessing. More than anything – a beginning is a type of pitch where you’re hooking the reader.
How does your story start? Tailoring that ‘first impression’ that your writing makes is key to keeping the reader turning the pages and seeing the story in their mind’s eye.
Today we’re taking a micro look at the first 5 pages of your script. If your logline, synopsis or verbal pitch was compelling, you’re fortunate to have someone reading the actual piece. You have about 30 seconds to a minute – 1-2 pages to grab their attention and 5 pages to suck them in because your writing is provocative.
Maybe you struggle with reading your work objectively, but you can definitely learn how to do so, and improve your writing and evaluation skills.
Here’s how to build your writing evaluation muscles:
1. Look at the first 5 pages and identify the 5 Ws.
- Where – where is the world of the story?
- When – when in time is it taking place?
- Who – who do we care about thus far?
- What – what seems to be happening?
- Why – why will the reader keep reading?
2. Are there vivid visual details?
Our brains are 50% visual, according to prominent neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel G. Amen. Your reader needs to ‘see’ what’s going on in the tale. This is a bit of a dance in that the description doesn’t hold the plot back.
In SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, (http://www.imsdb.com/Movie%20Scripts/Silver%20Linings%20Playbook%20Script.html) the story starts in Pat’s room in the psychiatric ward where he is speaking aloud, his feelings about his love Nikki, and Sundays and his hopes for the relationship.
INT. KAREL PSYCHIATRIC FACILITY/PAT’S ROOM – DAY
After we hear his thoughts, visual details are revealed in the room that tell us a little about Pat…
See glimpses of Pat’s room: mayonnaise jar filled with water, black trash bag strewn on the bed, handwritten sign taped to Pat’s wall, “EXCELSIOR”.
This indicates that Pat is a little odd, how odd, we don’t know. A couple of lines later we see Pat take a pill obediently from an orderly, then spit it out when nobody sees him. The writer (David O. Russell) could have shown us Pat arguing about taking his pill and refusing to take it.
INT. PSYCHIATRIC FACILITY/ DISPENSARY – DAY
PAT HOLDS SMALL PAPER CONTAINER WITH PIL.
TIPS HIS HEAD BACK AND DUMPS THE PILL INTO HIS MOUTH.
DRINKS WATER, OPENS MOUTH WIDE AND STICKS HIS TONGUE OUT to show he swallowed.
PAT WALKS, SPITTING OUT THE PILL. PILL LANDS ON FLOOR.
The fact that Pat just accepts it without incident, then spits it out secretly shows us that Pat has an issue with authority, doesn’t taking certain pills, and is smart enough to follow the system and do whatever he wants rather than fight the system.
Plus, it’s a little funny.
These visual details reveal character quickly, add humor, and give us a sense of where Pat is, who he is, and spur us to turn the page.
A great way to dissect the first 5 pages of your script is to read scripts of movies you like that you remember the opening. The production company Embryo Films purports that they could recognize a well written script from a logline, and the first 5 pages, which makes sense.
“In the year 2000, Embryo Films began seeking unsolicited screenplays. Within 6 months, we had a stack so high it would be impossible to read everything. Fortunately, we quickly discovered that we could determine if something wasn’t viable within the first 5 pages.”
Any potential buyer of your work will either be hooked quickly, or not at all, so evaluate and tighten your first 5 pages (your story’s 1st Impression) to keep us hooked!