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Tips for Writing Short Screenplays

Updated on February 13, 2016
GoodLady profile image

Penelope is retired but teaches English to business people in Rome part time. She is a published feature writer, playwright and poet.

Step Outline for a Short Screenplay

Step Outline for a short screenplay
Step Outline for a short screenplay | Source

Stories Come From What You Know

Speaking with Nathan Williams, who runs a UK media project called Shoot Out that helps young people develop their own scripts as part of a Rural Media project, he has this to say about how to begin 'thinking' about writing a short film script.

"When you start to brainstorm ideas, think about

  • what you know,
  • what excites you,
  • what interests you,"

He goes on to to say that your observations can be picked up from life like food from a buffet table, "just take what you want from each tray and move on. Open your eyes and have a look around, because if you're not looking, you won't see anything".

This is his example of how to begin that process:

"Maybe you’re next door neighbor always cuts his lawn at 3pm on a Saturday.


Is he a machine programmed to do it to look normal? What will happen if the grass overgrows?".

Developing an Idea for Writing Short Screenplaays

Take it a step further. "Are we in India, on the moon, in New Jersey? Are we in the future or twenty years ago, or is it right now and the clock is ticking? Is it a recurring dream? Is it a thought you found written on a piece of paper on the ground, which becomes a clue to a crime you saw."

Once you have your idea, share it with a friend because movies are collaborative and it's a sure way to keep the river of creativity flowing. It always "takes two to tango".

Make notes. Write all the ideas down. You're brainstorming. You're looking for the one story that happens for you, that really gets you because it is so exciting, or bizarre, or black, or multicolored or it really so tells your story.

What is the Genre of your Short?

Now it's time to make some practical decisions. You get smart and think about how to make your ideas work. You can twist and turn your ideas any which way. It's always a works in progress, (till the moment the film of it is released).

1.Decide on the genre or mixed genre.

2. Because 'Budget' is usually limited here are some realistic considerations:

  • period - is costly
  • many sets - is costly
  • many locations - is costly
  • complicated camera angles such as shooting from the sky - is costly
  • many people in the cast -is costly
  • crew is costly

If your idea is too expensive, that's Ok! Change genre, make it a monologue, think round the back of the box!

A Short Screnplay is not a Short Version of a Long Screenplay

If you ever had a long story worked out and you think for a second it could turn into a short. It simply can't.

Here is a list of what a short screenplay is NOT:

  • A short screenplay is not a shorter version of a story or script
  • A short screenplay is not a short story squashed into a short time.
  • A short screenplay is not a part of a bigger screenplay.
  • A short screenplay doesn't follow the three act structure of the movie script, though it does like some character development

What is a Short Screenplay?

The reason why your long story squashed into a short can't work is because of the following:

Short screenplays are artistic forms.

  • They are masterpieces in timing.
  • There is always a twist at the end, which turns the story on its head.
  • They're good when they follow the demands of a specific genre or mixture of genre.
  • Irony is an essential ingredient - often.
  • Documentary short screenplays are trending
  • Animation - there's a world out there!

It's important to watch many, many short films during your scriptwriting processes, just as it is important for a writer to read books when they write, or a painter to study paintings. It's inspiring on every level.

Storyboard for Short Film for Animation

Storyboard for a Short Film for Animation
Storyboard for a Short Film for Animation | Source

Draw a Storyboard

When you have written your short screenplay, then write the treatment for it and then it's helpful to storyboard it, frame by frame. Or make a list of bullet points of what happens, then what happens next.

When you have your script, your treatment (or bullet points) and your storyboards under your arm, you are well armed to make that screenplay happen, show it to someone for financing or even to your crew and actors.

By the time you finish creating those industry standard documents you will also have worked through one or two points that needed development, that weren't quite right.

Good luck.

© 2013 Penelope Hart


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    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 3 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Good luck with your story and your movie and thanks for your kind comment and vote.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Hi Good Lady. This is a good helpful hub.I wrote a short children' story and Nadine May said I should try to get it made into an animated movie. She recommended I read your hubs to find out about turning it into a screenplay or made into a movie. Voted up.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thanks for voting up! Glad you approve.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      This is good advice, GoodLady. Voted up +

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Why not tackle a short film? Wish you all the best with it Pamela. I have written one and it nearly got optioned and made - it still might. If I can do it, you can. Thanks for comments here.

      Real housewife - Ha! Here we are and glad you liked it. Phew!!! Thanks for dropping bye.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Ha! I found ya!

      You ARE a good lady! This is awesome!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 5 years ago from United States

      This is very interesting information. I never considered writing a screenplay, but I appreciate the reading about he necessary steps. You never know in life what you might tackle next.


    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      I've got a funny feeling you'd make a great short screenplay writer wilderness. You could do one on the bears you just wrote about on your camping trip!

      Susan. A short can be anything from 4 minutes to 90 minutes. I've seen some amazing shorts too, they are like poems aren't they?

      Judith, Grateful for your share and thank you.

      Many thanks everyone. I do appreciate your comments.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 5 years ago from UK

      Excellent resource - I've shared it!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I've seen some brilliant short screenplays and they've left me wanting more from the person that wrote them. Is there a standard for how long a short screenplay can actually be? Just curious.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      I've never written a screenplay, but your tips here make perfect sense and almost convince me to give it a try.

      Well done, GoodLady - all of your hubs on screenplays are excellent and plainly show a depth of knowledge of the subject.