Reading for Just Effing is a pleasure not only because of the diverse and often high-quality scripts we get to read, but because the system is so very rigorous and fair. We fill out a special ratings card that covers numerous categories including format, plot, character and commercial appeal.
BUT… If the scores aren’t good enough after the first 15 pages… Then the script doesn’t get read in its entirety. So what can be done to give the first 15 pages the X-factor?
1. No format, grammar and spelling errors. There’s no excuse for these first 15 pages! If there are mistakes, then they’d better be minor/non-repetitive, and the script opening/plot/characters, etc., must be so very compelling and entertaining in order to make up these easily-lost marks!
2. No camera directions, thanks! This is a screenwriting competition, not a director competition. Your vision should come through via methods other than the need to tell us how cameras will pan and how scenes will fade in and out or cut from one to another.
3. Don’t hit us with a cliché on the first page… Alarm clocks, dreams, getting the day started routines… Yawn!
4. Keep action descriptions short and interestingly sweet – there’s nothing worse than a page full of writing that describes every little detail (room contents, clothes, character movements, personalities, back story, “and then” phrases…).
5. No overly complicated dialogue… We don’t have to read every single “um”, “ah” and “pause/beat”, nor do characters need to address the recipient with their name every time they are speaking to them.
6. No exposition – in dialogue or through action descriptions. Show us these vibrant characters’ personalities, issues and conflicts creatively and more naturally!
7. Don’t give us too many characters (especially if they’re not that essential to the plot) all at once – it gets confusing!
8. We should be able to define a genre almost straight away – make sure the tone and inciting incident reflects it.
9. Talking of which, make sure there is an inciting incident! Make stuff happen – we don’t want the whole 15 pages to be a big introduction to our protagonist and their life. We want to be immersed in the story!
10. Make sure the premise is original. Even “the same but different” needs to have that unique selling point that makes it feel fresh. Stop us from feeling like we’ve read/seen it all before by giving the characters and events a twist.
11. Make sure you know your target audience. An obscure script can still score highly, but if its appeal wears too thin and it’s difficult to resonate with a universal audience it won’t score highly where commercial potential is concerned.
12. Write likeable characters! This needn’t mean they have to be likeable in the sense that they are nice, but even a dislikeable character must have issues and qualities that present potential for conflict and of course change. We need to be compelled to follow them throughout a whole script. If we’re sick of them by page 15, we won’t want to spend another 75 – 95 pages with them!
13. Page count. A tight script means an energetic (read: swift) start to a script’s structure. Overall page counts won’t, of course, affect any scores, but a 90-page script will make a tired reader desperate to finish for the day very happy indeed! It also shows that a writer is able to be very concise in the execution of their story – a great professional quality to show off.
14. Is there some sort of a cliff hanger/raised question/decision to be made by the protagonist – or a turning point – by the end of the 15 pages that will make us want to read more? There are times when I’ve almost gone over the 15 pages because I’m just that excited to find out what happens. That’s what you want to make happen to your reader.
15. How could we forget this last tip? JUST EFFING ENTERTAIN US!
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