Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Your first ten pages can't suck

This is something of an elementary lesson, but a random check of the slush pile shows that plenty of aspiring scribes would benefit from having this rule spelled out for them - your first ten pages often decide the fate of your whole script. If your first ten pages suck, then I decide your script sucks and I decide that you as a writer suck.

If I'm lucky, I'll come across your terrible script during a time when I've specifically sent to thin out the slush pile. Let's say agency submissions are at a high and someone is merely needed to do a cursory glance at the slush pile and make sure nothing good is being overlooked. In a case like this, I might get to read your first ten pages, decide you have no talent at all, and then toss the script guilt-free into the waste bin.

If I'm unlucky, some slimeball manager managed to call in a favor and sent in your script as an official submission. More than likely this means that some development VP is going to have to get on the phone and sound knowledgeable as he passes on it. That means I get stuck writing the coverage, which as you know, ensures I have to read the whole thing.

At this point Mr. Lazy Screenwriter is probably breathing a sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that even though his 92-page script takes 35 pages to hit its stride, the reader is going to have to read all of it no matter what, so the slow patch at the beginning is nothing to be concerned about. Indeed, in the bowels of every screenwriting discussion board, when the matter of the first ten pages is raised, there's always some belligerent bottom feeder to say "This talk of writing to impress the reader in the first ten pages is just paranoid bullshit. They HAVE to read the whole script! It's their job! You don't have to worry about this at all!"

Wrong. Because as we already discussed, I already decided you were a hack back on p. 10. And ever misstep you make after that - and I have NEVER seen a script with terrible first pages that miraculously turned into an awesome spec later - only reinforces what I've already decided about you. Think of me like your mother - I only see what you're doing wrong.

To overcome that negativity, the script would need a truly awesome concept, solid characters and great pacing and plotting. A writer good enough to pull that off is also usually good enough to make sure his first ten pages aren't garbage.

Ergo, if your first ten pages suck, you suck as a writer.

"Screw you!" says Lazy Screenwriter. "How the fuck can you tell anything by the first ten pages of a 120 page script! You should have to read the whole thing!"

Okay Champ, let's think of it this way. It's a lazy weeknight and all your favorite shows are in reruns. Your DVR accidentally deleted that Gossip Girl marathon you were saving for when your roommate went out of town and because Netflix has decided to throttle you, you've got two full days before you get a new DVD. The internet is down because Time Warner sucks (Heh, THAT'll surely send a lot of Google searches to my page), so you can't even waste time on Facebook. You could read a book, but you're determined to just veg and eat junk food.

So you go looking for a movie that you haven't seen on cable. Lo and behold, one is starting right as you hit Showtime. You don't recognize the title and the TV Guide description is vague. Therefore, the only way you can figure out if its any good is by actually watching it.

How long do you give the movie before you decide it's not something you're interested in?

Anyone who said more than ten minutes is a liar. Frankly, I think most people would give the movie less than five.

But Lazy Screenwriter, how can you make any call about if the movie is right for you if you don't watch the whole thing?

The first ten minutes - effectively the first ten pages - can tell you a hell of a lot about the movie. You know who the main characters are, what the genre is, and probably get some decent foreshadowing of the central conflict. What's more, they give the audience a reason to keep watching.

Forget this at your own peril.


  1. Same rule applies to novel writing, but with five pages.

  2. I don't get that attitude. Why would it be okay for ten pages to suck? ANY ten pages?

  3. I'm with you on this, Emily, but here's the summoning spell for Lazy Screenwriter.

    1) Go to any place that discusses screenplays - it could be Done Deal Pro, or Triggerstreet, and I bet this would even work in the comments on ScriptShadow with the right script.

    2) Find a discussion thread pertaining to specific scripts and poke around until you find one that has a soft begining. (This works best if you can find a writer who has posted their own script, and even better if said writer is a board veteran.)

    3) Read the first 10 pages and confirm that they are weak

    4) Write up a critique stating that you only read the first ten pages and then calmly and logically point out why most pro readers wouldn't get past them.

    5) Wait. Lazy Screenwriter will be along in a few minutes to say (a) you suck, (b) it's not fair to critique based on those pages when a "real" reader has to read the whole thing. (The implication being "If I suck here, it doesn't matter because I'm SO awesome elsewhere.)

    Try it. It works almost every time.

  4. Any chance I could send you the first ten pages of my horror script (vertical writing at its finest -- none of the scene description exceeds one line, none of the dialogue exceeds three lines). Damn thing reads like a runaway train.

    You could use it as an example for this article, good or bad. Hell, you could rip it to shreds and it wouldn't hurt my feelings -- you obviously know what you're talking about.

  5. Hey Bitter,

    What in the hell happened to "Mystery Man"?

    His last Twitter post was way back in March and even his Triggerstreet account has now been deleted.

    Did he die?

  6. I've gotta admit, I never followed Mystery Man that closely beyond Twitter, so I'm probably not the guy to ask. A while back didn't he tweet about some interview he was doing and implied that he might be unmasking himself there? Maybe this is related to that.

    Anyone have any ideas what happened to him?

  7. Women know in 5 minutes if they will fuck you. So 10 minutes to know if your script doesn't suck, sounds like 5 extra pages most writers don't deserve.

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  9. Okay, let's try this again without a dog jumping on my keyboard!

    Can I just say that I love your blog? You cover the same things I do, feel the same way, but you say it in a rated R content. Gotta love that! Thanks for being here!

  10. I would just like to say re my latest script, the first 140 pages suck, but when you get to that shoot-out on page 160, hoo boy, you'll be blown away.

    Can't wait to sell this thing.

  11. i laughed my head off reading the postings.
    i am writting a script but frankly i have no idea what i am doing. ijust know that i am passionate about the concept.