My current project is a post-apocalyptic adventure/zombie road movie. I just finished breaking the story and have started writing.
I’m on page 10. I believe something important is supposed to happen on page 10. I believe it’s called the ten-page twist. Do I have a ten-page twist? I do. But at the moment it doesn’t quite hit page 10. Am I supposed to write the whole screenplay first, and then come back and rewrite to hit my marks? I’m not sure at the moment. Although, I do believe something important should happen to grab your readers attention on page 10.
A fact of life: People do not have a high attention span. If you cannot hook your audience into the story in 10 pages, my screenwriting teacher says you’re fucked. I believe him.
Another fact: The ten-page twist does not have to be a twist necessarily.
It has to be something that catches the readers attention and makes them say, “I want to know what happens!.” This is especially true if your screenplay to magically falls into the hands of a producer/script reader. These people read so many damn scripts a week; they’re just looking for a reason not to read your script. DO NOT GIVE IT TO THEM! When they get to page 10, they’ll know if they want to continue reading. Give them something that makes them want to turn to page 11.
That’s where I am at, and that is what I’m trying to do.
[UPDATE: The theory behind the ten-page twist still holds. You do want to hook the reader in the first ten pages and keep them reading. But I’ve come to learn over the many years since I wrote this article, that these hard and fast rules don’t matter. You can write anything you want, any way you want. You don’t need to land anything specific on page ten. As long as there is something that keeps the reader reading, you’re good.]