I’ve been listening to the Nerdist Writer’s Panel Podcasts a fair bit recently, specifically the comics edition, and there was a little nugget of info I found interesting – namely, comics writers try to end every odd-numbered page with a mini-cliffhanger to keep you turning the pages. It doesn’t have to be much, just enough to pose some form of question in the reader’s mind which makes them want to keep reading.
Now I knew novelists do that with chapters and clearly individual issues of a comic will end on a cliffhanger, but for some reason it never occured to me they would end each page (or pair of pages) with one.
So I checked it out and realised it was quite obvious … once I knew it was there.
The reason I mention this, is because it occurs to me I do the same thing in a script.
By the way, I apologise now if you already do this. I doubt this is new information to anyone; but here it is, just in case.
So, long ago, it occured to me that if people rarely read past page ten, then it would be wise to leave something hanging at the bottom of the page. Someone falls off something, someone asks a question, a bullet streaks towards someone’s face (dot dot DOT!)
These moments occur naturally throughout a script anyway, so tweaking things to make them land at the bottom of page ten isn’t a great hardship. Sometimes I have to re-write an action block to make it one line instead of two or maybe snip out a word from someone’s dialogue to stop it going onto the next line. Other times I might have to separate out an action block into two or three separate, punchier lines. These things help improve the read anyway, so it’s not hurting pages 1 to 10 either.
Since listening to John August and Craig Mazin’s three page challenges I’ve also started doing the same for page three.
And I read somewhere Will Smith gives a script five pages before putting it down, so I put one there too. To be honest, I do it periodically throughout the script as well, because … fuck it, it probably can’t hurt.
Don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t something I do whilst writing the first, second or even third draft. Nor do I do it in production drafts* because by then people (a lot of people) already like the script and are invested enough in it to keep reading no matter what. This is something I only do in the in-between drafts – the ones betwixt the first few and the locked production drafts. And even then, it’s not something I really think about until I’m close to getting the story nailed down … but when I have to show the script to someone, when they have to read and like it … well, like I say, it can’t hurt.
Maybe you already do this?
Maybe you’ve tried it and decided it’s fucking stupid?
Maybe just the thought of it makes you roll your eyes with contempt? I mean, come on! The script isn’t the point, the film’s the point. No one ever even sees the script, so who cares what happens on what page?
And to be honest, the only people who do see my scripts in this mini-cliffed state are the people who are (or I’m hoping will be) buying it from me. It’s a competitive industry and the money people have a lot of reading to do. In my view, anything which gives me a teeny-tiny advantage over the next script, anything which helps keep people turning the pages, no matter how insignificant it may seem … it’s got to be worth it, hasn’t it?
* Once pages are locked, this sort of thing becomes not only pointless but downright impossible. Especially if the production team are using Final Draft, which takes its pagination from your printer settings. This essentially means everyone who looks at the script gets a page break in a different place.
I had one script locked for production where the line producer and I were having a small war of attrition over the page numbers. Every time I did a revision and sent it in, she would change the page number font to Arial and send it back. I would change it back to Courier Final Draft for the next draft … and so on.
After a few drafts of this, I was getting annoyed. I mean, it doesn’t really matter … but why the fuck was she insisting the page numbers HAD to be in Arial when the rest of the script was in Courier FD? Eventually, I casually (that means with limited swearing) asked her why.
She was horrified – she would never interfere with the writer’s work. Even the page numbers. All she was doing was adding the headers and the revision date/number to the title page in the format she was used to. And anyway, the whole script was in Arial, wasn’t it?
Turns out, her computer had somehow deleted the Courier Final Draft font. Final Draft didn’t seem to notice and just picked a new font at random. The change in font was turning a 90 page script into a 130+ pager.
EVEN AFTER THE SCRIPT WAS LOCKED.
This meant all of the production team were working on different length scripts with different fonts and different pagination depending on whether they got it from her or from me.
So, you know, page-ending cliffhangers were completely and utterly pointless.