Everyone's heard of the Ten Minute Rule, yes? This is the one where you absolutely must have your story's trigger in the first 10 minutes or people will get bored. Not always true, but why would you go against it when it's true usually?
I was shocked and stunned (literally, my mouth dropped!) to hear someone I respected as a writer-y person say that you have to have your trigger in the first 20 minutes. This was when talking about a 60 minute drama.
First 20?! 20???!!!
Yep, twenty. To which I say - bollocks! Even as a kid I had a 15 minute rule (still do) - if a film doesn't interest me in the first 15 minutes, I'm gone. Ok, so character development may be interesting and needed, yes. But it doesn't grab me. What grabs me is a character doing something - that's how we learn about who they are, by seeing what they do.
We find how who Captain Miller is in Saving Private Ryan by how he commands his men in battle. We find out who Maximus is in Gladiator by.......how he commands his men in battle. We find out who Jack Sparrow is by how he arrives into port. What they do.
In my opinion, it should be a 10% rule. This means that if you're writing a 100 page screenplay (which most of us are), your trigger should appear by page 10. This also means that if you're writing a 60 minute TV drama, your trigger should be there by page 6.
Think about it - people sit down on a Friday night at about 11pm. "It's too late to start watching a movie," they say. So they're flicking through the channels and they see something just about to start that is an hour long. "Ah, an hour is perfect," they think. "Just what I need."
Because this person is only willing to invest an hour into this story, this also means they're most likely to only invest a small amount into the story's setup. Your audience is there - make sure you keep it! As Kurt Cobain said - "Here we are now, entertain us."
If your trigger comes in at 15 minutes in a two-hour film, that's 1/8 of the way through. Fair enough. But if it's 15 minutes into an hour piece, that's 1/4 of the way through. 1/4, 25%.
So I've wasted 25% of this story just finding out whether it's "my sort of thing". Boring.
So yes, the 10% rule is what I go by, but always falling back on the 15 minute rule as well. If you're writing a 90 minute piece, make it 9 minutes in. An hour = 6 minutes. A 25 minute sitcom = 2.5 minutes.
Not only do you keep the audience interested, but you also force yourself to get into the heart of the story as soon as possible, meaning you are able to fully explore its potential.
That's all. Disagree? Let me know. I'm always up for a good debate.