Monday, July 12, 2010

First 10 pages, minor character names, and the Red Planet Prize

Okay, so the announcements that "should be coming soon" haven't actually arrived yet, but that's just the way of the world. You can never predict when they'll choose to announce stuff, the marketing strategies of big companies are run according to an arcane system of rune casting and entrail reading, by a blind sorcerer who lives in a cupboard. They have to check what other announcements they or other companies have got planned, so as not to be overshadowed. If they announce too early, they risk people getting bored and forgetting about it by the time it's released. Too late, and there's not enough time to build up a buzz. All of which means I have no news today. Don't blame me, blame the entrails.

Somebody was talking on The Twitter the other day about naming minor characters in scripts. The theory is, you can bring a bit of life to a tiny, two-line character, and make it a more enticing prospect for an actor - they'd much prefer to put "Jack 'Hammer' McTavish" on their list of credits instead of "Security guard 2", "Fat bloke", or "Idiot who falls over and shits his pants". So I try to name them when I can. Unless it's the opening 10 pages.

Why not there? Well, if it's a pilot episode, you've got enough new characters to introduce without confusing the issue. If you have your 4 or 5 main characters appearing and speaking, and another 4 or 5 named minor characters popping up with a line here and there, you risk overloading the reader with names to remember in the first few pages. They don't know which ones will be sticking around for the series yet. I don't like to do it, but when trying to grab someone's attention, I don't want to lose them. So I'll use Guard 1 or Shopkeeper, just so the reader knows who to focus on. Sure, your main characters should be fascinating and brilliant enough that it's *obvious* who to focus on. But sometimes, for the sake of clarity and not overloading the page with too much information, it's better to start this way. If that minor character is in the whole episode and part of the main plot, then of course they should be named. But not people who only pop up briefly in that opening section.

Once I've set everyone up in those first 10 pages - I want my main characters right there up front, to show them off - then I can give the minor characters names after that point. Hopefully by then I've done my job properly, and the reader will know who the main characters are and what they're all about. If the thing goes into production, then after it goes out to casting I'll give it a quick pass through and name everyone, as by then everyone will have read it. Even if it's episode 4 and your main characters are already set up, you'll have guest characters and a new story to introduce, so it's still better to keep those first 10 pages clear.

And yes, of course you shouldn't have to dumb anything down, the reader should have patience and stick with it and pay attention to your amazing multi-character story, why is the world so unfair blah blah blah - but it's only a small thing that I reckon makes a big difference. Works for me, your mileage may vary, etc etc. It's hard enough keeping someone's attention in those first 10 pages, and I'll do anything I can to avoid making it more difficult.

Speaking of the first 10 pages, the Red Planet Prize is up and running again, they want to see the first 10 pages of your TV script, and you need to enter it. No entry fee, first prize of £5000, a script commission, an agent, and some priceless mentoring from Red Planet and Kudos. Some runners up get the mentoring too, so it's well worth your time entering. Details are at Sir Daniel of Stackshire's blog here, and he's even written up some helpful tips here. Deadline is 31st July, which doesn't leave much time - but they only want the first 10 pages, and a one page outline of the series or episode. But you could be asked for the full 60 minute script by the end of August, so you still have time to get a script together. Danny's got all the rules and details on his blog - go and read, then get writing, if you haven't started already. Worst case scenario: you've written a brand new script. Go and hit that keyboard.