It’s heartbreaking, but it’s true: many decision makers (agents, producers, and executives) will decide if a writer is good or a project is compelling after reading only the first ten pages of a script. And in TV, it could be as little as the first three pages. This is why the beginning of your script is so important: its life or death often depends on its first few pages.
It’s why the fear of staring at a blank page of a new project can feel so intense. But, if you take your time and put in the (often tedious) pre-work necessary before writing, you can get to a strong opening that gets readers hooked and excited. Here’s how.
1. Know where you’re going.
The truth, although inconvenient, is that the best way to start your script is to know where you’re going. Knowing the ending before you ever put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) will help you know exactly where you need to start. Once you have those two key pieces in pace, follow the guidelines below for a strong opening.
2. Grab their attention.
As I mentioned above, for the busiest executives who only read a script’s first two or three pages before they decide to move on or keep reading, you must keep your opening efficient and exciting. This is also key: remember to stay true to your genre. Think about the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE franchise. Each movie starts with a tense, high-stakes action scene that instantly draws the audience in, testing its characters deepest flaws while setting up the key plot points for the next two hours. This is how powerful an opening can be if done right.
3. Make sure your protagonist is pursuing their goal right away.
As readers, we should know what the character wants, ideally by the end of the first page. It should be clear as soon as possible what the main through line of your pilot or movie will be. Get us involved with your protagonist and their goal (and/or obstacles to that goal) right from the beginning and make us feelsomething about them. If we can feel their passion/desire/need for what they’re pursuing and why that matters, we’ll be hooked.
4. Once you have the right structure, finesse.
Once you know all the moving pieces you need to get across in your opening, put them down on paper, then ruthlessly refine them. Get rid of unnecessary dialogue and description. Streamline anything that might slow down you’re the read, or any exposition that might make the reader feel like you’re spoon feeding them information. Depending on the genre you’re writing, find ways to make your opening more unexpected, action-packed, tense, or funny. And beware: nothing will make a reader less eager to read your script than when they see giantchunks of detailed scene description in your first three pages. It’s felt so daunting to me that I’ve had second thoughts about continuing to read. Keep that script moving!
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