So you got an email back from a recent screenwriting contest. It thanks you for entering but sadly, your script didn’t make it to the next round. After the initial dejection fades away, you begins wondering; Why didn’t it get further? What did I do wrong?
Before you beat yourself up, recognize that it’s not necessarily your overall writing that got you bumped out of the contest. It may have been your first impression that didn’t hook the contest judge. Look at it this way; you’re at a party and you’re meeting a person that you find yourself attracted to. You try to get the conversation started with some small talk and the other person flubs their lines.
Maybe they start backtracking their previous statements or they constantly repeat themselves. Whatever it is, that person doesn’t seem to be connecting with you at that moment. While all this is going on, a different person comes along and they have a hobby that is similar to yours. The conversation seems very natural. Immediately there is a connection.
I’m not suggesting it’s a smoldering, lusty, let’s-get-out-of-here connection; but there it is, a beginning. Each of you is at ease with the other. Does that mean that the first person you spoke with, the one who didn’t communicate clearly, is a bad person or one not worthy of your time? Of course not. But given the choice of people at the party, you found someone who made it effortless to get to know.
That’s the key to grabbing and keeping the attention of the contest judge as they read your script; effortless connection. There are Three Simple Rules you can follow to ensure that the next contest you enter, will make the judge want to push your script through to the winner’s circle. While these rules do hold true to the entire screenplay, for the purposes here, we are speaking about the opening salvo of your story, roughly the first ten pages.
Just like going to a cocktail party, when a person opens your script they are looking for solid first impressions.
First rule, don’t waste the judge’s energy on excessive details. You have a very limited amount of time to grab their attention. If you start your story by writing dense prose – describing in detail the sky, the exterior of a building or too much information about the characters – it will slow down the read. More importantly, it actually prevents the reader from engaging their mind in your story.
Keep the description lean. If you waste a great deal of space setting up the scene, it makes the judge wonder if the rest of the script is going to be just as dense. Going back to the party reference, if someone spends too much time answering a simple question, you may wonder whether or not any further conversations will take all evening. Since it’s a party, there are other people you want to meet, just as judges have other scripts to read.
In our next post, we’ll discuss the last Two Rules to establishing a great beginning – not only in your scripts, but in promoting yourself, and ultimately, your next award winning screenplay!