In our last post, we established the basic rule for setting up the beginning of your screenplay. However, think of these as rules that will not only help you formulate a great script, but will help you promote your screenplay as well. The previous rule, was about not wasting the screenplay judge’s (or anyone else’s) time.
Second rule, get to the point! When you start a story you need to let the judge know what time period the story takes place in, who the main character(s) are and what the story is about. Far too many scripts have scenes that are written as if to say, “Look how well I can write!” However, they come across as filler that has little to do with the story.
Ever hear a person passionately tell a story or anecdote…that never goes anywhere? They gesture wildly, their voice swells and suddenly they veer off onto a tangent leaving you wondering – wait, did I just miss something? They start to come around to the climax of their tale, but the moment is lost and their audience soon disperses, muttering excuses about having to refresh their drinks, or refill the dip bowl.
As an example of a bad setup, I once read a script where the writer went into great detail about five major characters. They made it clear what the backstory was pertaining to each of them and how they friendships evolved with the protagonist. I was OK, with the description, it was relatively lean and I thought it would pay off. Roughly twelve pages into the story, four of the characters were killed off and the main character was running for his life. This brings us to the final rule.
Make everything relevant. If you drop specific details about a character, or steer the reader’s focus to a specific item, it better pay off. We hear about The Force in the very beginning of Star Wars, which has a huge impact on the story when Luke destroys the DeathStar. (Apologizes for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.) The Ruby Slippers have their shining moment at the end of Wizard of Oz.
Don’t make a big deal about something by constantly referring back to it, only to have it not be relevant to the story or message. If the story can do without it, remove it. The it can be a character, description or excessive piece of dialogue. You’re better off having a ninety page screenplay that is tight and well structured than a one hundred and thirty page script that has to much of it strewn throughout the pages.
If you follow these Three Simple Rules, not only will you have a high quality script, but you will indicate to the contest judge that you have mastered the craft of writing. Great Beginnings are about hooking the judge and keeping them engaged in your story until the final page and ultimately, putting your script at the top of the stack where it belongs.
Coming up next: Judges, How do they do it? What is the process that they use to pick one script over another? If you want to understand how it all works so you can hone your next screenplay, you won’t want to miss this article!