Articles & Advice

8 Things to Avoid Writing on the First Page of Your Script

Have you looked at the first page of your script lately? Page one is the very first thing a reader will see when they open your script, and often times problems exist immediately and set the story back before it even gets started. I’ve opened tens of thousands of scripts and writers would be shocked at what happens over and over on the first page. 

Good news is you can fix things right now!

Pictures

How much dialogue do you have on your first page? Visual action is a more efficient way to introduce the reader to your world.

When a reader starts a script, they know nothing and they want to learn. Start your script with descriptions of what the audience will see on the screen. Describe people doing things, not saying things, as this is an effective way of providing them context, backstory, character, and environment——right from the start.

Are there great scripts that open with dialogue? Yes. But learn how to start with motion pictures before you break the rules.

No Pictures

If you’re describing pictures on a wall of a character’s family, their degrees from colleges to show how smart they are, or a television set with a news reporter speaking into a microphone, consider using the actions and words of your characters to deliver backstory and exposition instead.

Pointing a camera at another static picture or broadcast is not cinematic. Do we see this all the time in movies and television shows? Yes. Is it lazy? Absolutely.

If you have descriptions of photos or TV news on page one, you’re unfortunately sending a weak signal to the reader. Is there a different and stronger way to tell your story?

Tattoos

Writers often describe a very specific visual clue on a character’s body, like a tattoo or scar, which we will need to remember later to understand a major plot turn or conflict resolution. Often times this comes almost immediately in a script. This will require an extreme close up shot of someone’s neck or leg. If the audience or reader happens to miss this particular detail, they won’t understand the story.

Do not put all your chips on one insert shot that we have to remember for the entire script. It’s fragile writing. Compel your audience with characters and their choices, not “blink and you miss it” plot construction.

Morning

If you start your script with a character waking up (usually with alarms), this tells us you have no idea how to start your story.

Always begin your script with nobody waking up. Thank you.

Shoes

Writers often introduce a character by describing the shoes or feet of a character walking into the story. How many times do you remember seeing a character’s feet before their face in a movie? How often does this happen in real life? Really almost never.

Check your script for feet and shoe introductions.

Words

Less words always. Start with few words on page one. Give your script air. Leave lots of white space on page one and throughout. When a reader sees blocks of writing on page one, they sense an early draft. Pro scripts always use blank space to engage the mind and heart of the reader.

See how many words you can remove while telling the same story. Take this seriously.

Characters

How many characters appear on page one? If your reader has just started your script, let them digest a very small number of characters. Maybe just one. Scripts that introduce a dozen people on page one overwhelm and confuse.

We are starting an emotional relationship with the people in your story. Give us the space and time to establish a connection in a healthy, organic way. Pace your introductions of the characters in your script and avoid the rush of rolling them out instantly.

Story

Writers are often told to hook an audience in the first five pages, etc. This pushes writers to rush their story into the first few moments of their script. Readers sense an effort to engage and often feel bewildered as to what’s going on. Clarity suffers. Emotion gets trampled by plot.

Exhibit patience on page one. Do not cram a thing. Tell the truth in a measured way and let the reader become interested. If you take your time and respect their intelligence, they will.

***

Fixing the first page is very important—–doing it on every page of your script is another thing. But that’s the horizon for every writer: to have every page compel the reader forward. Compelling scripts have great powers, and can make everything happen. Be patient, diligent, and meticulous in your work and one day your work will completely separate itself from every other script in the pile.

Oh yeah, and don’t describe the sun or sky at the start of your script. 

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