All that on a single piece of (digital) paper?

bad 1st impression
It can only go downhill from here

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. And that also applies to a screenplay. If your first page doesn’t make us want to keep going, why should we? Chances are the rest of it is exactly the same.

The first page is your golden opportunity to start strong straight out of the gate. Show us from the absolute get-go you know what you’re doing. A lot of the time, I’ll know by the end of the first page what kind of ride I should be expecting.

Just a few items to take into consideration.

-First and foremost, how’s the writing? No doubt you think it’s fine, but face it. You’re biased. You want a total stranger to find it fault-free, so look at it like one. Is it easy to follow and understand? Does it flow smoothly? When I read it, do I get a clear mental image of what you’re describing? Does it show, not tell?

-Is there a lot of white space? Are your sentences brief and to the point, or do they drone on and on with too many words?

-Do you point the reader in the right direction and let them figure things out, or at least get the point across via subtext, or do think it’s necessary to explain everything, including what a character is thinking or feeling? Yes, that happens on the first page.

-If your protagonist is introduced here, are they described in the way you want me to visualize them for the next 90-110 pages? Does a notable physical characteristic play a part in the story? Are they behaving in such a way that it establishes the proper starting point for their arc? Are they doing something that endears them to us, making us care about them?

-If your protagonist ISN’T on the first page, does it do a good job in setting up the world in which the story takes place? Do the characters introduced here play any kind of role later on in the story?

-Are there any mistakes regarding spelling or punctuation? Are you absolutely sure about that? SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. A team does not loose a game, nor do I think they should of won either. Two glaring errors that your software will not recognize. But a reader will.

-Does it properly set up the genre? If it’s a comedy, should I be prepared to have my sides ache from laughing too hard? If it’s a horror, should I make sure the lights are on, even if it’s 12 noon? If it’s a drama, should I have a box of tissues within arm’s reach to dry the expected river of tears?

-Do your characters sound like people saying actual things, or are they spouting nothing but exposition and overused cliches?

Not sure about any of these? Read it over with as critical an eye as you can muster, or get help from somebody within your network of savvy writing colleagues. DO NOT go to somebody who doesn’t know screenwriting.

Think I’m being overly critical? Ask any professional consultant or reader, and I bet 99 out of 100 will say they know exactly what kind of read they’re in for by the end of the first page. And number 100 might also agree.

Then again, there’s also the possibility that the first page could be brilliant and it stays that way until FADE OUT.

Or the wheels could fall off anywhere between page 2 and the end.

Your mission, and you should choose to accept it, is to make that first page as irresistible as you can, grab us tight, and not let go. Make us want to keep going. Then do the same for page 2, then page 3, page 4, etc.  Make us totally forget what page we’re on.

Take a look at the first page of your latest draft. Does it do what you and the story need it to?

-Didja notice the spiffy new look? Had to make some behind-the-scenes changes, and this is the result.

Bursting at the seams

Have to be careful not to overdo it

Overwriting has always been an issue for me, at least when it comes to first drafts. I tend to put a lot more on the page than is probably necessary, which of course, increases the number of pages.

Case in point – while progress is moving along nicely for the pulpy adventure spec, and I’m faithfully adhering to the outline, scenes throughout the first act are running longer than expected, so the inciting incident will be occurring somewhere around 10 pages later than anticipated.

If things continue at this rate, I may end up with a script that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 pages, which is way too long.

Keep in mind that I don’t make a point of strictly adhering to certain feline-influenced rules/guidelines of a “THIS MOMENT IN THE SCRIPT MUST HAPPEN ON THIS PAGE” nature; it’s really more of a suggestion.

The good thing is that I can just keep pushing forward, knowing there will be some major editing and rewriting in store when this draft is finished. It’s a lot easier to go in and cut, as opposed to scrambling and struggling to add in material. And as evidenced by past behavior, I’ll probably continue to occasionally go back and tweak something I don’t see as sitting right.

For now, the very-helpful process of plotting out the beats of a scene and writing them as such will, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a subconscious effort to tighten things up a little begins to develop.

One brief sidenote – I’ve been making a real effort to reduce the amount of time spent with casual netsurfing and replacing it with actual writing. It’s made quite a difference, and the results have been most productive. I heartily recommend it.

Hopefully not too seldomly heard

Thanks, Harry! I’m glad you liked it.

So how’s your November writing project coming along?

Mine’s not too bad.

I’m a few scenes into Act 2, and things seem to be progressing smoothly, including coming up with a strong and slightly expository scene at the spur of the moment. Daily page output is fluctuating, but relatively steady; not sure if I’ll have a completed draft by month’s end, but think I’ll at least be mighty close.

This script is actually part of a collaborative effort (more on how that came about another time), so I sent the first ten pages to the other person, just to let them know how it was going.

Their response arrived the following morning.

“Fucking amazing! You are definitely on the right path. Amazing job!”

There was more to it, but I believe that accurately sums it up. They like what I’ve done so far, which in turn buoys my confidence, thereby inspiring me to keep charging ahead. Encouragement combined with enthusiasm is contagious.

Added bonus – several voicemails since then mentioning how they’re been reading those pages a couple of times a day and can’t help but feel a thrilled sense of anticipation about the rest of the script, along with its potential.

No complaints from yours truly about dealing with a case of the warm fuzzies.

A writer always hopes people like what they’ve written. True, not everybody will, but if some positive comments come from another writer whose opinion you value, wouldn’t that give you a little boost?

Who doesn’t appreciate a little vindication for all the hours put into getting to this point? We all know how much effort it takes to write something, let alone something that garners a positive response.

When I’m asked to read something, I’ll be honest with my thoughts on it. I’ll make appropriate suggestions of how it could be improved (which is usually the reason we’re being asked to read in the first place). But if I think it’s good, I won’t hesitate to say so. I will gladly point out what I liked and why I liked it.

Your readers are more than happy to give you positive feedback and words of encouragement, but they won’t do it because they like you or you’re their friend. They will do it because the material you wrote earned it.

And they’ll want you to keep doing it. And you’ll want to too.