The Secret to a Good Story: Make the First 10 Minutes Count


Last night I saw Ball of Fire directed by Howard Hawks and written, in part, by the great Billy Wilder.

It’s about a group of professors (based off Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs) who are trying to write an encyclopedia but get delayed when they allow the endearing and inciting Barbara Stanwyck to crash in their home offices.

The opening few scenes deserve the most attention for they swiftly set the story and nimbly introduce a rather absurd group of characters.

The best bit revolves around an elderly house maid interrogating the professors about a jar of missing jam. When none of the professors confess to the crime she grimly states her punishment: no jam for the remainder of the week.

The look of horror is priceless:

In the background we see the ever lovable S.Z. Sakall grinning like a school boy because he knows the punishment will pain his peers.

Scriptwriter Ben Garant would do well to use Ball of Fire as an example in his masterclass where he argues that all good, popular scripts define the setting of the story and each major character within it in the first 10 minutes.

Writers, not just screenwriters, should always try to build their world and explain their characters as quickly as possible.

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