Pilar Alessandra, script consultant at On The Page, believes that story can be broken down into two interdependent elements: events and emotions. That driving emotion takes your main character to a new event which in turn generates a new emotion.
THE FIRST TEN PAGES Give your audience a strong genre opening. Then you can reset and set up your character and their world. The main character needs to make a grand entrance with actions that define them. The magic page 10 moment is that you should be feeling that you know who the character is, have a sense of their world, sense the possibilities of a situation to develop. You don’t have to nail everything in those ten pages, just make the reader interested.
PAGES 10-15 The reader needs a sense of a problematic situation that something’s going to happen so that around page 17 or so, that situation looks like it’s leading to a movie-worthy problem. We don’t have to know everything, we don’t need a major inciting incident, we just have to get a sense that all of these things that have been set up are leading us somewhere.
PAGES LATE 20s This is the end of the first act and the reader needs to see the main character get into trouble.
PAGES 30-45 (ACT 2A) The reader looking for a sense of play, of testing out the concept. The main character needs to explore all possibilities, some of which will fail. The supporting character should also start showing their worth to nudge the main character past the midpoint.
PAGES 45-60 (ACT 2B) The main character must experience a shift in strategy, a new commitment or upheaval. This is where people fall in love, where they make a devious plan or where the antagonist starts really kicking it up. This is the story within the story.
PAGES 60-75 (ACT 2C) The main character has attempted to execute their mission, but not quite succeeded. The supporting characters and antagonists also get a chance to play here. Paradoxically, antagonists see themselves as heroes here, thwarting the attempts of the antagonist (hero).
PAGES 75-80 (ACT 2D) The main character has failed. All is lost and they are dealing with the emotional debris. The main character feels they have explored every avenue to solve their dilemma to no avail.
PAGES 80-110 (ACT 3) The character is forced into one last push to succeed due to something the character didn’t notice to begin with, something that another character carried with them, or a phrase that suddenly makes sense because they’re on this part of the journey. The character’s liability suddenly becomes an asset. Don’t forget how your supporting characters catalyzed the process. Ensure there is closure to your story. Know your concept and commit to the genre. Explore a familiar theme in a new way.
If these elements aren’t in place, a reader has difficulty connecting with your story and understanding your intention. A lack of these elements indicates the writer hasn’t entirely nailed the story they want to tell.