Experts Weigh In: The First 10 Pages

We hear it often: As a writer, you have to grab them right off the bat. In the first 5, 7, 10 pages. No one is going to read until the big reveal on page 90 (or page 55 in the case of a 1-hour pilot) if you didn’t grab them and keep them reading from the very first page. Those first 10 pages of your script can effectively mean make-or-break for your work.

The truth of the matter is that there is no secret – no exact formula that will, time after time, stay tried and true. For more insight on the topic, I turned to my friends who work every day in the construction and exploration of story, in the hopes of getting insights and wisdom from them. I asked:


Here is what they told me:

Jen Grisanti, one of the industry’s leading consultants and an instructor at NBC’s Writers on the Verge said:

“The first 10 pages or less is what sets up the story. They are very significant to whether the story will work.  If the set up isn’t strong, you lose your audience. In the first 10 pages, I like the following to be established – the establishment of the world, the personal dilemma of the central character (sets up internal stakes), the trigger or inciting incident that launches them into action, set up of external stakes and the theme stated.”

When I asked Tawnya Bhattacharya, a working writer and founder of Script Anatomy, a television writing school in Los Angeles and online, as well as an instructor for the Disney/ABC Writing Program, that same question, she said:

“Other than making sure the writing is GREAT — (clean, clear, and moves on the page. Has a specific tone. A strong voice. Visual. No typos…), I don’t subscribe to a singular way of making the first ten pages stand out. It might be that the writer draws in the reader with lyrical writing or a specific tone or visuals… or it might be a shocking scene or set-piece, or a funny scene… it could be a scene with snappy dialogue or none at all. I’ve seen great scripts begin by hitting the ground running and others slowly lure you in. A story needs to unfold the way it needs to… so to say “make sure you grab them in the first few pages with an edgy, shocking moment” might do that particular story a disservice.”

Screenwriting consultant Ruth Atkinson, who works with Film Independence and Sundance Labs, as well as consults, said this of the first 10 pages:

“Get to the f***ing story!!! Too many scripts take forever to get going. Open with something that hooks the reader by getting them curious and asking questions about what’s next. Not in a head scratching way of what the heck is going on but one of genuine engagement about what’s going to happen next. A unique world will always draw me in as will unexpected choices.” 

Sought after reader Andrew Hilton, who reads under the banner Screenplay Mechanic, told me:

“This is akin to the first 10 minutes of a first date. It’s essential to make a great impression on two fronts: the story and the execution. Any reader will first and foremost want their attention to be grabbed. Beyond that, they’ll judge the style, the writer’s “voice,” and they’ll be getting a feel for the genre and tone. If the story isn’t compelling, the writer’s voice isn’t interesting, or it’s unclear where the narrative is headed, most producers or execs will stop reading and reach for the next script in the pile.”

Hayley Mckenzie, a former UK-based development exec who worked with the BBC and ITV before turning to her consulting work with Script Angel, said:

“Raising questions and careful crafting by rewriting it, a lot! Every scene should leave us with an unanswered question. The opening 10 minutes of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, before we get near Oz, is a great example of every moment creating a problem, making the audience ask, what’s Dorothy going to do now? And it must be word-perfect. It’s not enough that every scene in those 10 pages earns its place, but in a well-written, stand-out script, every word on those pages has been carefully chosen and carries as much weight and significance as possible.”

You can get more insight into Hayley’s take on the first 10 pages HERE.

Danny Manus, former development executive and founder of NoBull Script Consulting, had this to say:

“Well, I teach a whole class on Crafting the First 10 Pages, and there are about 13 things that I go over in that class including creating the world, setting the tone and genre, making us feel an emotion immediately, introducing your character in a compelling way, and having a GREAT (or intriguing) first line of dialogue. Because a great first line will buy you 10 pages. It’s about picking the RIGHT time to enter your story and knowing when that is. I do first act consultations all the time to make sure my clients’ scripts are starting out in the best way at the best moment to grab a reader.” 

And finally, script reader Rob Ripley, who operates via his service The Third Act, told me:

“The first ten pages really stand out when they’re focused on the main character in a way that brings their conflict out in the open and grounds us in their worldview. Sure there’s all the blah-blah-blah setup noise, but for me, it’s all about establishing the main character as our point of reference for everything. Without that, there’s little meaningful reason for a reader to invest.”

What excites me when reading the first pages of a script is the confidence with which they are written, and with which a unique point of view, different and interesting characters and engaging story points are presented. Now, confidence does not mean bravado; there is really no way to fake it. Confidence comes when the writer has really embraced his “voice,” and is able to utilize it in order to not only tell a story, but also tell it in a way that is entirely unique to him. I remember years ago opening a script from a writer I still work with today, and reading an opener in which a dog leads us through a house to our protagonist. In the wrong hands, this could have been trite. Dull. An unnecessary gimmick gone wrong. But from the way that it was written, I could easily surmise that I had never read anything written in this particular voice. It worked, and I was instantly intrigued, as the writer was able to display from page one that he knew what he was doing. Don’t get me wrong: if I don’t get a strong feel for character and genre, and if the story doesn’t get going in the first ten pages I am likely not going to be particularly enthused to read on. But a strong voice put on display will definitely help carry me through!


Want more Experts Weigh In? Check out some of our previous installments, including OUTLINING YOUR SCREENPLAY and SCREENWRITERS’ BIGGEST MISTAKES