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The First Ten Pages

February 2, 2015

In a previous blog, I wrote about compelling characters. I wrote about an action that your hero must do within in the first ten pages of a script to help make him/her more relatable and likeable. This is one of many things that must take place in a spec script in order to keep a reader interested. If they read past the first ten pages, you’re more likely to get a ‘recommend’ on the script. That means those higher up, the ones that foot the bill for your movie, will have a better chance of reading your script. If that happens, you’ve got a better chance of getting paid! And isn’t that why we write? Well, yea, there’s that whole self-therapeutic thing, but the main reason is to get paid!

I have created a list of five (5) things that you must have in those first ten pages to get your spec script past the reader. This is not an exhaustive list, just the top five things that I believe are the most important. Let’s call them… Folden’s Fundamental Five! Let’s count them down.

5) Likable/Relatable Protagonist – This is what Blake Snyder calls the “Save the Cat” moment. Many movies take this literally and actually have the character save a cat. The audience melts, and an audible “Awwww” can be heard throughout the theater. Without being literal, this is a scene in which our hero does something that makes us like him/her. It can be catching a baby that’s tossed from a burning building. It can be helping a little old lady take her groceries to her car. It can even be something as simple as playing a quick game of catch with the neighbor boy. As long as it makes the audience think, “Gee, he’s a swell guy.”

4) Worthy Opponent – This can be a person, a group of people, nature, or even our hero himself. This is what builds the conflict in your story. Without it, all you have is a boring slice of life narrative. What makes an opponent worthy? He/she must be stronger than your protagonist. He must challenge the hero! This is what forces your character to grow and change. Without change, your story will fall flat. After all, what’s the purpose of telling the story if your hero learns nothing from his adventure? The opponent must be stronger than your hero, but not too strong, just strong enough to make the hero become stronger. The hero always has to win the battle, not always the war (can you say sequel?), but definitely the battle.

3) A Strong Want – Your protagonist will always voice what he wants, “I want the moon!” But it’s not always what they need. What he needs is a loving family, someone to make him feel special and loved, “He’s so fluffy!” It’s only while journeying down that path towards what he wants that he discovers what he needs. I’m not saying that your hero always needs love. Some heroes may need independence, or acceptance. The point is that he should find it while reaching for what he thinks he wants, and that want should be present within the first ten pages.

2) Unwilling Protagonist – The hero’s life is not what he wants it to be. He wants something more. Unfortunately that want leads him into an adverse situation. Sure, eventually it will get him where he needs to be, but he doesn’t know that. He is being forced in a direction that he believes to be contradictory to what he wants. If it isn’t, then what’s the point? If he is pushed toward something that he believes he wants, then where is the conflict? Without conflict you don’t have a story. He needs to fight it before eventually accepting The Call. Yes! The Call! The number one thing you need in the first ten pages.

1) The Call – This is the life changing moment in the hero’s story. This is the catalyst that changes everything. The Inciting Incident! This is the moment of decision. Once he steps over that threshold, there’s no coming back. At least not without being a changed man. This is the happening that begins your story, the whole reason for the hero’s existence within the story. Without The Call there is nowhere for your character to go and if your character goes nowhere, then your story will surely follow.

Again, these aren’t the only things that need to be in the first ten pages, but they are my top five. If I see these in the first ten pages, there’s a very strong chance that I will continue reading. There is one thing that will get your script tossed aside quicker than anything else: formatting. Improper formatting will get your script turned away before the reader even starts to read it. Make sure your script is properly formatted. Get this book by Dave Trottier to learn everything you need to know.

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