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A Previous E-Mail of The Week 

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This week's question: 

I never know exactly how many pages my scripts should be.  Can you please tell me?

Todd from New York


This week's Answer: 

Todd, no need to fret all that much when it comes to the number of pages in a screenplay.  Remember that content is what you want to be focusing on, and not hobbling yourself with the concern about what the final page number will be.  As a general rule, comedies are shorter than dramas.  There is the golden 120 pages (but who’s that golden these days?  Except, maybe Oscar, himself.  And even he is not close to being 100% so.)  The 120 concept makes the act breaks easy to delineate:  Act I, 30 pages; Act II, the next 60, and the third act picking up the last 30.  But stories need to “tell themselves” and sometimes don’t fit into the 120 template, needing a little (or a lot) less or more page terrain. 

My advice is to just let your entire story pour forth, play with it, sculpt it, enjoy the process of bringing it from your creative depths, that imaginative, unique right-brain part of you that has no care about page numbers.  Then bring in the editor-left brain aspect of your mind, the part that can use your script length to help you assess it in terms of time passage, for that is what you must ultimately do:  set your story along some kind of timeline.  The lights go out and there is a limited time within that dark theater to get your story across.  A story must go through transitions; characters must transform, we must undergo a change as we passively sit and watch in the theater.  And change denotes a passage of time.  Looking at page numbers throughout the script can assist you in marking your story changes, shifts, transitions.   For example:  The accepted school of thought is that something substantial needs to happen by page 10 that will strongly affect the protagonist.  (Of course, this is a relative statement, being that, if your script turns out to be a tight 90 or so, then you might do well to bring about your “inciting incident” a little earlier than the 10-page point.  Actually, in that case, it might be better to shoot for page 7 or earlier being your starting gate for your story’s acceleration.).  But never let the numbers of the pages interfere with the words on them, but, rather, use page numbers as milestones or road signs that aid you in locating where you are in your story.  And page numbers, like road signs, can be very helpful when visibility is low or when you’re feeling rather lost.  (Looks like I’m getting to the end of this first page, which must mean something... although, I don’t know what that is... Oh, yes:  Time to sign off for now.  My last advice is to go ahead and write yourself a fabulous page-turner.  Just don’t worry all that much about what numbers are on them.  

DcH


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