Opening page length of a thriller

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  • Opening page length of a thriller

    I've gone through a few threads on the number of pages an opening sequence should have, around.

    my story has an opening of 11 pages (some ext, some int. but all within a house and a back yard).

    the protagonist is introduced on page one and stays with us throughout.
    Villains are introduced on page 8. The over arching goal is introduced as well.

    the purpose of the setup is to have a close look and feel of my hero in a calm family setting before the action creeps and the pace takes off after page 11.

    I got a note back stating 11 pages is too long, "seriously bad for pacing."

    hmm...

    One of my favorite films this year is Headhunters which is an action thriller and has a slow creeping setup, opening pages.

    same with Bourne Identity. It spends 9.5 minutes of screen time on a boat during the opening.

    Does a suspense thriller need to have a one-two punch in its opening or else pacing will be shattered even though the pacing throughout the story in on point?

  • #2
    Re: Opening page length of a thriller

    I would say that it all depends on what those 11 pages read like. If they're fantastic, then a sequence following the main character for 11 pages won't even be noticed by someone riveted to the writing and the story you're telling. It may be that there's a lull or sag in those pages which weighs them down and makes the pacing a noticeable problem. Bottom line is it's really hard to evaluate a pacing problem without seeing the pages...simply too many possibilities to consider. If it's character exposition, then yeah, that's a pacing problem and tons of other problems as well. If the character's got a dirty bomb strapped to his chest as he's pulling a nuke on a wagon down Main Street, then maybe not so much a pacing problem there. So...what happens in those pages? What do we know about the story on p.11 that we didn't know on p.2 or 5 or 7?

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    • #3
      Re: Opening page length of a thriller

      Don't be boring. Are those pages boring? Make them not boring.
      Chicks Who Script podcast

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      • #4
        Re: Opening page length of a thriller

        Are those pages advancing the plot or merely showing his life before it's permanently altered forever? Agreed that it's hard to tell without seeing pages.

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        • #5
          Re: Opening page length of a thriller

          Originally posted by montevideo View Post
          same with Bourne Identity. It spends 9.5 minutes of screen time on a boat during the opening.
          But a lot happens in those 9.5 minutes. It's pacy right from the get go.

          Originally posted by montevideo View Post
          One of my favorite films this year is Headhunters which is an action thriller and has a slow creeping setup, opening pages.
          Same there. A lot happening. Within ten minutes we know all about him and he's finished his second burglary. Pacy.

          I wouldn't describe either of those films as having creeping setups.
          Last edited by Timmy; 10-08-2012, 07:16 PM.
          Story Structure 1
          Story Structure 2
          Story Structure 3

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          • #6
            Re: Opening page length of a thriller

            I made sure what I wrote moved the story forward. There's no exposition till the villains enter the scene then the short expo is tension filled, conflict driven. It's an emotional climax of a father watching his wife being held and his five year old in disarray. Protag' is asked for help but refuses. Protag kills one of them. They knock protag out with a tranquilizer. End of opening sequence.

            What unfolds is a a lie that he an his family were living under. His wife believing one thing and finding out the real truth as pressure builds on top of the protag to come straight with the truth. The pressure builds from the villains as they enter his house.

            What we learn are the motivations of the villains. What they want. And a boat load of questions to be paid off as the story unfolds.

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            • #7
              Re: Opening page length of a thriller

              I think screenwriting is like playing Texas Hold'em. You don't really know how to control the game until you completely understand the risks you are taking and why they are justified in that precise particular moment.

              If someone from the outside thinks an unconventional choice you make is downright boneheaded, it very well could be, but sometimes there's just no way to know until the hand is played out.

              The writer's job is to figure out why it's unconventional and why in this exact situation an unconventional approach is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, any onorthodox successes are just beginner's dumb luck.
              On Twitter @DeadManSkipping

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              • #8
                Re: Opening page length of a thriller

                Originally posted by montevideo View Post
                I've gone through a few threads on the number of pages an opening sequence should have, around.

                my story has an opening of 11 pages (some ext, some int. but all within a house and a back yard).

                the protagonist is introduced on page one and stays with us throughout.
                Villains are introduced on page 8. The over arching goal is introduced as well.

                the purpose of the setup is to have a close look and feel of my hero in a calm family setting before the action creeps and the pace takes off after page 11.

                I got a note back stating 11 pages is too long, "seriously bad for pacing."

                hmm...

                One of my favorite films this year is Headhunters which is an action thriller and has a slow creeping setup, opening pages.

                same with Bourne Identity. It spends 9.5 minutes of screen time on a boat during the opening.

                Does a suspense thriller need to have a one-two punch in its opening or else pacing will be shattered even though the pacing throughout the story in on point?

                Not knowing any more than what you've described in the thread below, I may just be tossing something out into the dark, but here's a thought.

                Sometimes an opening is flat because the writer simply hasn't given us enough information up front.

                That is, he hasn't set the stage for the story's central problem up front. A lot of times, a writer will do this with a brief flashback, or a short cutaway to the villains doing something or planning something -- and we may not even quite fully understand it, but it gives us a hint of that "main problem" on the way.

                Essentially, that opening scene, which may be completely removed in time and space from the Protagonist, is cocking the gun on the bullet that is about to be fired into the heart of the Protagonist's life.

                So once we have that scene, it's possible to cut from that and go to much more domesticated low key scenes, where the protagonist can be going about his business, with family, his normal life, doing what he does -- and the audience is willing to have a bit of patience.

                That's because, even though the Protagonist doesn't see the anvil about to fall and smash through his comfortable existence, because we've seen that opening scene -- whatever it was -- we know what's coming.

                This makes all the difference between simply watching scenes unfold where we don't really know what's going to happen and so we're just waiting around for something -- who knows what -- and watching those same scenes, where we know, in effect, that there's a bomb ticking under the table, which thus imbues those same scenes with suspense, because we're waiting for that bomb to go off.

                NMS

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                • #9
                  Re: Opening page length of a thriller

                  "I made sure what I wrote moved the story forward. There's no exposition till the villains enter the scene then the short expo is tension filled, conflict driven. It's an emotional climax of a father watching his wife being held and his five year old in disarray. Protag' is asked for help but refuses. Protag kills one of them. They knock protag out with a tranquilizer. End of opening sequence.

                  What unfolds is a a lie that he an his family were living under. His wife believing one thing and finding out the real truth as pressure builds on top of the protag to come straight with the truth. The pressure builds from the villains as they enter his house.


                  What we learn are the motivations of the villains. What they want. And a boat load of questions to be paid off as the story unfolds."


                  Do we find out all of this in the beginning? Do we need to? A couple of thoughts, fwtw, as a way to tighten, not necessarily all together:

                  -come into the scene much later (once the villians are in the room with protag and family)

                  -don't reveal all the 'why's.' Just scratch the surface enough to intrigue the audience and leave questions hanging from that scene (especially in the middle of something horrible happening: leave us hanging)

                  -break the scene up in 2 pieces (questions now and answers later)

                  -open on a heightened scene out of chronological order and then come back to it to 'finish' within the order of the body of the script

                  There's likely a way to keep all the tension and just open the door to the problem without disclosing all of it. We don't need to know everything from the beginning. The theme, the tone, and main character (and their need) are huge, and what they want ('save their family,' 'retrieve x' but we don't need every answer--just the thrust.)

                  Good luck whatever you decide to do with it!
                  https://actbreakdown.com

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                  • #10
                    Re: easiest way

                    Originally posted by Timmy View Post
                    Same there. A lot happening. Within ten minutes we know all about him and he's finished his second burglary. Pacy.
                    SPOILERS on HeadHunters (film)

                    One thing that I do find interesting about Headhunters is the fact that the villian went through this elaborate maze just to get secrets from a rival company.

                    Why not just hire a detective or thug to break into the company and steal documents or use technology to hack his way in? No, he chooses to involve the hero's wife, the hero's fling, the use of fake art to lure the hero in. It's preposterous but it works so well!

                    I say this cause in my opening we set up our elaborate scheme which isn't necessarily the easiest way to get to point B for the villain but it's the last resort as stated by the villain.

                    Maybe this should be a separate thread
                    montevideo
                    Regular
                    Last edited by montevideo; 10-09-2012, 09:43 AM. Reason: words

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                    • #11
                      Re: easiest way

                      Originally posted by montevideo View Post
                      Why not just hire a detective or thug to break into the company and steal documents or use technology to hack his way in?
                      But then Roger wouldn't have been forced to run, where he overcomes his fear of losing Diana, realizes she loves him for who he is, resolves his over-compensation issues, learns it's ok to be short.

                      The villain did them a favor. They should name the kid Clas.
                      Story Structure 1
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                      • #12
                        Re: easiest way

                        Originally posted by Timmy View Post
                        But then Roger wouldn't have been forced to run, where he overcomes his fear of losing Diana, realizes she loves him for who he is, resolves his over-compensation issues, learns it's ok to be short.

                        The villain did them a favor. They should name the kid Clas.
                        I agree. I was just making fun of those that say "this story is not taking the simplest road" try again.

                        Headhunters is the story I throw at them, among a slew of other very good directed films.

                        The character takes you where you need to go and sometimes it's the long way but that's ok as long as it's fun, sad, happy, exciting...

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                        • #13
                          Re: Opening page length of a thriller

                          I will echo what some have already said. It all depends on how those pages read, and the content on the page is probably more important than the page count.

                          The Dark Night opened with a bank robbery scene that took some time and was filled with tension. I thought that scene was pretty good.

                          You said your goal is to show the protagonist living out a normal family life. There are ways that can be accomplished in 2 pages, and ways that it can be accomplished with a longer page count.

                          The villains don't show up until page 8. So, I guess it depends on what your protagonist and the other characters are doing for those first 8 pages? What are they doing?
                          BloodyBigfoot
                          User
                          Last edited by BloodyBigfoot; 10-10-2012, 02:48 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Opening page length of a thriller

                            Originally posted by BloodyBigfoot View Post

                            That villains don't show up until page 8. So, I guess it depends on what your protagonist and the other characters are doing for those first 8 pages? What are they doing?
                            they peel off the layers of the onion. The normal family life lasts two pages then a story reversal hits us, high tension emerges as our hero's past is creeping up on him til he's forced to confess then the ground falls from under him as the villains take over the house, words fly, bullets fly, hero is taken down, the story takes off.

                            Could do it in four pages but I really want the audience to feel for the protagonist who will be searching for the family we were introduced to in these 11 pages.

                            it's not an 11 page scene but a sequence from House to outside the house to a car that pulls up then back to the house...

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                            • #15
                              Re: Opening page length of a thriller

                              I'm sick and tired of teaser openings.

                              What dramatic purpose does a big-ass explosion serve when the order it shatters was never established?

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