In the days of yore, the first ten pages are what enticed a reader to continue. Today, it boils down to the first page. The first page is like a title page that will bait the reader. It’s the next logical step from a logline which will initiate a sc ript request. It advertises your writing craft and you as a writer, so make it count.
Acclaimed script instructress extraordinaire, Pilar Alessandra discusses the function of the first page.
The main character usually appears on the first page, or very soon after. If they appear much later, you may have started your story too early. Think about your character descriptions beyond the physical. They should encapsulate their essence. Age should only be included if it adds a dimension to your character. A hormonal teenaged boy elicits different imagery to an octogenarian hormonal man. Women are judged by age, so be sparing in using ages in their character descriptions.
Sometimes an occupation is description enough. A high court judge is likely to be a middle aged male or female.
Introduce your main character with an action which defines their life and mindset. Consider Pilar’s example “Suzie, a mousy cubicle worker, sits at her desk and stares at a thin slice of sky through the window”. It tells us Suzie is a dreamer rather than a doer. She’s unhappy with her life, but won’t do anything to improve it. She’s fearful and safe.
This is inextricably linked to genre. It depends on word choices and actions to propel the story. Consider the following: “Josh struggles with his twisted leg in the woods. The trees overhead form a canopy diffuse the scare beams of moonlight. The cold mud squelches beneath him as he prepares to sleep for the night”. It is dark, scary, eerie; probably a horror or thriller film.
Much like a prologue, the first page must set up the main character, their world and their problem in a self-contained, 3 act scene. It must pack a mean punch to engage the reader.
We should get a hint of a dilemma, conflict on the first page, although it isn’t developed until later. We need to get a feel of the story and the main character trajectory.
ACTIVATE PASSIVE/INANIMATE OBJECTS
I like this one. It energizes the read. Consider “the bullet ricochets around the bar and pierces its intended victim”. We’re giving the bullet an intention, a personality and a sense of control.
Many over-worked readers claim that a good script can be judged on the way it makes them feel. What do they see on the first page? What do they find out?
A screenplay is meant to be experienced rather than read. Be mindful not to micro-manage. Let your action guide the reader. Too much description can be as unnerving as too little.
Don’t overburden the reader with too many words on the page. Too much “black” on the page is a turnoff.