The First 10 Pages
Are you ready?
You know your story – vaguely. You can state it in two or three sentences. You can give the logline. You know your main characters and the place. You’re ready. Welcome to the random draft.
If you have been thinking about your movie for some time, chances are you envision a very detailed opening that you have played in your head down to the last meticulous gesture. When you sit down to put it into movie form, you might immediately go catatonic because you think, “How do I get from the table to the stove and back again?”
Here’s a sample of how you might think it should be done.
INT. SUE AND MAX’S KITCHEN – MORNING
EXTREME CLOSE UP (ECU) of two friend eggs cooking. CAMERA PULLS OUT TO REVEAL SUE, a young housewife, newly married, cooking breakfast. She is wearing her plaid robe. It’s 8 A.M. She’s late for work. She’s a bank teller. She realizes her boss will be mad. She pours orange juice as she worries about being on time and rushes to make sandwiches for lunch even though she’s on a diet. The eggs are ready.
(shouts to Max)
Honey, the eggs are ready.
She puts them on a plate and then walks to the table as she shouts:
SUE: (to Max) I’m putting them on the table.
MAX enters in plaid robe. Crosses to Sue and kisses her neck.
SUE: You’re not dressed.
MAX: (lustfully) No, I’m not.
Notice two things: (a) there is information that can’t be shown (her boss being mad) and (b) there are redundant instructions (for her to walk to the table, for instance, when the dialogue already demands this action). A script is (a) description, what we see, and (b) dialogue, what is said. Find ways in your story using what we’ll see and what is said.
Here’s a better way to write that scene:
INT. KITCHEN – MORNING
SUE cooks breakfast. MAX enters. Caresses Sue.
They sink to the floor in the folds of matching thick robes.
Do you see how much easier that is? Do you see how the scene gets right to its purpose?
Write it in master scenes. That means seeing the action as though you were a spectator in the room. Let the director put in close-ups and inserts of her reaction and his hand on the toast. I put that last part there about the folds of their matching robes because I wanted to suggest lovemaking as opposed to lust. New marriage. A kind of innocent commitment. There’ something about matching robes that’s going to be challenged in this story.
Once you’re writing in Spartan form, when an image comes to you, you can recognize it and it’s a clue to your story.
What we’re after here is an overall feeling. Think of this draft as a Sculptor would work on a slab of clay, first shaping it roughly. Set an overall feeling. Later you will hone details. If you work out small details now, you’ll end up with a slab of clay with one perfect eye looking out of it.
The random draft is for discovery. You are mining for riches. You’ll be amazed at what wonders will appear.
Here’s the plan: Write the random draft. Read it. Find out what your movie is about. Rewrite by taking out everything that isn’t your movie.
So the task of the random draft is to show you the movie you want to write.
Now you are at the typewriter, wearing your lucky socks, so you have objects around that remind you of the characters. You are familiar with how a movie looks on paper. Your tabs are set. If you are writing in longhand, you’ve already determined how many of your handwritten pages equal a typed page.
The plan is to throw down an image on the page as fast as you can. As fast as it comes to you, that’s how fast you want to tell us what pictures you’re seeing.
You are not writing your movie today; you are only dashing down the first ten pages of the random draft. You’re just going to give a feeling, and it’s a feeling you already know. You don’t have to think anything up. Just give us what you feel.
Write like a madman. Dump out everything you know about your idea. It doesn’t have to make sense, just dump it as though it were a hot coal and it had to be gotten out of you before it burned a hole.
Results for today are measured by your page count. Dash down ten speed pages and you get an Oscar for outstanding presentation by a speedwriter for Day 1.
You have two hours. You can actually do ten speed pages in ten minutes, but you have two hours. You can get it done in the first ten minutes and go celebrate, or you can take the whole time.
RULE 1 AND RULE 2
Rule 1: Ten pages or two hours, whichever comes first. If you don’t have ten pages after two hours, you broke Rule 2.
Rule 2: Don’t think.
Take a deep breath. Imagine yourself in a theatre. Your movie comes up on the screen. Write what you see.
SPECIAL BONUS CRISIS INTERVENTION
Help! Help! I need more help!
There will be some questions that occur to you as you go. Should I start in the car or have a scene before that, in the house? Should I have him be an ex-con? These questions come up, so you can answer them. They are not there to stop you. Make decisions – keep taking action. Okay, she likes him. Play out that scene; if it doesn’t work, then try it another way. She doesn’t like him. What serves your story best?
Here’s what decision making is: powerful! You are creating a world. Keep going when you get to a question. Decide and write it in. Don’t worry about the best thing to say – that’s later. Just get them in the room. Just get them going on action and the story.
It will come at you and leave you in waves. ‘I got it! I got it!” “The whole thing is in my head and I’ll just dash it down.” And then; “Oh no, this is too hard,” “It’s too much,” “I can’t handle it.” All emotions will happen. Excitement. Elation. Panic. You need all these parts of yourself to establish your story’s depth and width and breadth. Jump. Just jump. Inner Movie Axiom: It’s only a risk if you don’t take it.
Besides, you’re not alone. Your characters will actually talk to you. They’ll tell you. “Turn the fire up,” “Come on in deeper,” “Don’t go away.” Look at your dialogue. What are your characters telling you to do?
“Talk to me. Don’t just stand there.”
Your characters will always ask you for more life. Give it to them.
Q: I know I’m supposed to set the mood and establish the characters on page 1. How do I do that?
A: Here’s how to get all that on your page 1 … Forget it, it’s in the back of your mind already – all you have to do is make place? What’s the story? Close your eyes. Images will come to you. That is your first page. Now write it down as you see it.
Q: I have so many questions. Should my character be mad or start crying? Is he thirty-two or seventeen?
A: Here’s what the creative process is: forming questions that cause answers that in turn lead to better questions.
Let’s say every time you don’t know something about the script you ask a question. This has two effects: (a) it immediately identifies what it is you don’t know, and (b), since you have now identified what you don’t know, you are much more able to find out. The first part is the key. In writing, you have to keep identifying what you don’t yet know so that you can create it. (What if my character’s twenty-two instead of twenty? Then he’d be graduating. That’s great! It makes his actions more urgent.)
Keep asking questions and then answer quickly. To write is to make decisions (Okay, he’s twenty-two, let’s see what that does to his relationship with her. What if she’s older than he is?)
Ask yourself what has to happen in this scene. And then what? And then what? Write quickly. Do not elaborate. It’s just a map to get you where you’re going. Any holes or changes are a lot easier to fix once you see them on the page.
Q: It was going great, then I went blank. Why?
A: What you might find is that you get a detailed first three pages and then you keep refining it, chiselling it in stone. This is an exercise in trying to tell yourself you can do it. You can. You will. Move on. Remember you are writing the first draft first, and all the first draft does it let you know what you already know but don’t yet know you know.
Q: Would you repeat about structure?
A: By the bottom of page 3, we need to know what story you’re going to be showing us. After page 3 you continue to give us more and more information. You are setting up your story all along. You are telling us who this is about. Where we are. What the main character wants to have. On the bottom of page 10, you state clearly what the story is. Page 3 is the theme – we’re going to explore the possibilities of love between an older woman and a younger man. On page 10 it’s about this woman and this man in this situation and what they both want. You don’t need anything else today.
If you haven’t done your speed pages, do them now.
I DID IT, HOORAY!
Congratulations! You’ve started writing your movie. It exists.
I suggest you don’t read it. I suggest you lavish yourself in love or ice cream; however, you might need to read it – go ahead – but don’t change anything and don’t judge it. Just read it to get crazy about yourself.
Now go let visions of sugar plums dance in your head. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.
©Andrea Nicola Dodgson, 1971.