The Jane Doe Novel Experiment

Creating Two New Novels. Writing One Chapter Weekly. Podcasting As I Go. Welcome to The Experiment.

What Must Happen In the 1st 10 Pages – Pt. 1

I’ve started to believe that all novels would be better if written like a screenplay, but with more words. Screenwriters, we have a formula, measured beats, things that must happen, and we have rules as to when. Generally, when these rules are followed, you have a number one hit at the box office. When they are not…Hollywood attempts to recoup its loses.

Here’s beat number 1: The Catalyst*

In the first 10 pages of your script, something should happen to give your central character a goal, a desire, a mission, a need, or a problem. The “Catalyst”!*

Here’s the principle: When a story begins, life is in balance. Your hero may have a problem, but it’s a problem he’s always had-his status quo.*

Then the Catalyst kicks things out of balance and gives the central character a new problem, need, goal, desire. The Catalyst begins the movement of the story.*

Here’s the point: Readers need to know right from the get-go what kind of story they’re reading, who to root for, and an idea of the direction of the conflict.*

Here’s something you may not know: a single page in a movie script roughly equals one minute on film. Pop in your favorite movie and watch the first ten minutes. I’ll wait. 😉

Are you back? I bet you just saw a few points we haven’t gotten to yet, (like the main characters), and the Catalyst. The problem, the goal, the mission, or desire was made clear. The Catalyst.
And remember, all of that was captured in writing within ten pages.

Novels are the same! Readers don’t want to read for an hour and still not know what your novel is about. It should be made cleared within the same amount of pages and definitely by the end of chapter one. Grab your work in process and see if your readers know what’s going on before the end of Chapter 1.

*Quoted from, The Screenwriter’s Bible, by David Trottier


4 comments on “What Must Happen In the 1st 10 Pages – Pt. 1

  1. dbryantsimmons
    July 21, 2012

    10 pages, huh? Well, see now I don’t feel so bad for being impatient. All this time I thought it was me 🙂

    • Jane Doe
      July 21, 2012

      You know what you like. But be careful! The Catalyst is not the same as the Big Event. (pt. 2 or 3), although they can happen at the same time. The point of catalyst is to throw something off balance and show desires mounting so we can know where the story is going.

      Clear Catalyst & (Big Event) plot: in, Cruel Intentions, the first 10 (11) minutes, Ryan Phillippe tells us he wants to conquer more challenging girls to sleep with and that his challenge will be the virgin, Reese Witherspoon. Michelle Gellar wants revenge on an ex so requests Ryan to sleep with his ex’s new girl friend. We know exactly the Catalyst and Plot. It’s spelled out clear and we know how each player is involved.

      Catalyst only: This means we only get a general idea of what’s changing. It’s enough for us to know where the story is heading without giving us details. The perfect example is The Help. Abilieen is asked in the kitchen by Skeeter if she wants things to change. She was referring to the early conversation that colors and whites should have their own bathrooms. This is the catalyst. The reader can pick up on the fact that the story is about civil rights, but it’s not until page 119 that the actual plot comes out: Skeeter wants to write book. But the story holds its own because their are a lot of captivating smaller catalysts and plots in the book that are emotionally charged.

      Forest Gump is a movie that falls under this category. His leg braces fall off and a football coach sees how fast of a runner he is and recruits him for his team. We know that Forest’s luck is changing, without knowing exactly how lucky he will really turn out to be!

      • dbryantsimmons
        July 22, 2012

        Great description! I totally agree!

      • dbryantsimmons
        July 22, 2012

        Great description! I totally agree! I just saw Magic Mike and the whole time I was thinking about what you said about 1 min being equal to 1 page … I think the first 30-40 min took forever! It’s so slow. Thinking back on it now, I’m sure there was a catalyst moment. It just wasn’t done very well so the audience is left wondering when is the story actually going to begin and what is this movie about? Or maybe it was just me and my mom and we just weren’t interested in the story that was unraveling. But, I tend to think it’s the author/creator’s job to make people interested.

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This entry was posted on July 20, 2012 by in For Writers and tagged , , , , , .

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