Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Being a Hooker by Serita Stevens

When a longtime friend got into an argument with another friend about the myth of the first ten pages, I had to step in. Having, as a big favor, read his script, I had to agree that indeed the first ten were crucial.

It's often said that readers -- script or book -- will give you ten pages to prove yourself as a writer and get them engaged enough to continue reading.  Maybe book readers might give you a chapter before they put it down, but file it in the circular container they will if you cannot follow the dictates and needs of today's readers. This is especially true here in Hollywood, where 1:4 people -- maybe more -- have a script in their drawers and readers are swamped with material.

In fact, I've heard various readers say that they can after only one or two pages determine if you are a professional writer. They know this by how you introduce the character, establish the point of view, make him likeable, set up the world, the problem that the character must solve, and their obstacles.

My friend's script meandered, did not make clear who the main character was, what her problem was (I didn't learn that until page 25 -- and if I had not promised to read it for him I would have put it down long ago!) and what her obstacles were. He also had numerous transitions scenes that were unnecessary for the story -- her getting into the car, making dinner and even going to the bathroom -- none of which moved the story forward.

At one time, when books were king and authors like Charles Dickens had the leisure to slowly draw us into the world, things were different. People had time then. These days, with everything that demands our attention, time is something we give grudgingly, and we are easily distracted and pulled away from stories that move slow.
 
Readers today want instant excitement, engagement and concern.  In my workbook -- The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books and Scripts -- based on my teaching at various universities and conferences, my chapter on beginnings says that we must be hookers. We, the writer, must hook the reader with "sexy" active words, showing not telling and only hints of the background. I don't care if the science fiction palace has 4 or 10 columns, what the dress is or even the physical description of the characters -- unless those are crucial to the story. I do care what the characters' first actions and reactions are. That is how we get to know our hero and antagonist.

In scripts, where every word counts, the writer must be a minimalist. We don't need to know about the velvet drapes or the oak desk -- unless they are crucial to the story. You can just say an ornate room with Jacobean furniture and let the set designer decide. Part of that is because scripts are a team effort and not a sole job as many books are. They have to be a reading experience, but not overwhelming with long passages of description, dialogue or backstory.

Even with books, too many novice writers start with a flashback -- or what they believe to be a flashback. (However, you cannot flash back to a scene when you haven't started yet, when you haven't engaged us in the character and his problem yet.)  Or they start with pages and pages of backstory (how the character came to where he is now) when that is better dripped into the story by bits and pieces once we have already identified with the character and decided we want to follow him. They tell us things, but they don't show us and their writing is passive rather than active. (He is running versus he ran.) They have not yet learned to start with an action that will involve us in the character's life. They bore us with physical traits of blond hair and blue eyes when that doesn't really matter to who the character is or how he reacts.

You can read more about me and my creative projects at my website. My forthcoming novel is titled My Pagan Love.

1 comment:

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I certainly agree, Serita. Really, the first page in a book needs to grab the reader.