Scripting a good story for a short

In this blog post I will explain allot of tips how to properly write a good story and not how to format a script as there are allot of programs which automatically do that like Celtix and most of them also include a tutorial how to proper setup the script format. The main thing about this post will be all about writing a good story for start up film makers as I have seen allot of bad written script passing by, badly scripted movies in competitions and some even passes as big feature films. Instead of ranting on them, will just explain how to make sure how to write a good one.

Knowing the genres is very important, as during the 48 Hour Film project in the Netherlands, there seem to be a problem that everybody seem to be writing a script that is more outside their genre than inside. Most of them are adding too much jokes in it, because making it funny people would remember their film, however if they are joking too much for a laughter you be closer to a comedy then your actual genre. Also another problem is writing too artsy, writing too much about visuals and the movie becoming only about the visual and not the story, which most likely fall in the good part of Art House. The wrong part of art house if the movie totally just does not make sense and it doesn't even look good. However I have seen also tons of Dutch art house script and they are just horrible and don't even come close to their actual written synopsis that sound more decent. However I don't need to really explain the movie genres, cause you can find it here on Wikipedia.

This technique is always used in any creative field to find new directions and things you might not have thing about. If you have seen Independents Day, what Jeff Goldblum does by saying random words that has means something together, counts as brainstorming, bust most of the time you would write it down so you don't forget them. Also don't have to be random words, but could also be sayings or rhymes that has a meaning. And from these words you would build up a story or actually write a log line. Here is a link to a blogpost  of mine about brainstorming for a logo but along the line still contains how to brainstorm.

Write a Log Line
Just write down what the story is all about in few simple sentences. And this will be the whole backbone and the plot where the whole movie is all about. This is important because if what you have written down actually sound bad, wouldn't recommend writing further. But also like writing under pressure for like at a 48hour film project allot of ideas will come out and then you have to choose so write them down and go away for a bit and see which is the most interesting to choose.

Basic structure
The base of a story and actually most of the story will have the same structure.
  1. Start with a short introduction showing what kind of person the protagonist is.
  2. Get into trouble.
  3. Journey of searching the solution.
  4. Finding the solution and using it.
Some might have more things happening, but most have this or something completely different. But most have this going on, but in a short film this happens only once, but in feature films happens allot of time over and over till you get the final big solution which finish it all. If your story have these set, you should already at least have something halve decent.

First write a synopsis of the entire story, before writing the entire script. This will help you setup every scene that really needs to happen. Also its easy to use the synopsis to cut it up into the actions and scenes. But mostly to check if you are writing a story that is possible to shoot or not as also within the synopsis all the locations, amount of character, props and more informations can be found. And often need to make sure its in the reach of budget, available locations or amount of people needed.

Don't be a smart ass
Another thing a scriptwriter should know, is that the audience isn't as smart as you think they are. I don't mean people watching movies are stupid, but if you have several layers of a story and mysteriously put hidden plots with only hidden hints on the background, nobody would understand what is going on and what the story is about. A story need to be clear and understandable and hints should be very obviously put in their face so they understand the actual hint, as the hint could be used as a diversion to put them on the other leg for a twist plot. To check this is to get an opinion from someone without explaining the synopsis of the story to them and let them read the script. Also don't explain things in the action but let them be just clear actions. If they don't understand it, just ask which part they don't understand and fix them. Cause people should understand what they are watching and then they would enjoy it more then being frustrated trying to think what it all means.

Take them on an adventure
A movie is enjoyable when something is actually happening. I have seen allot of movies which are boring, because the story literally does not go anywhere. The most important thing is just to show the most important things. If I wrote a story based on a day of my life, it would mainly contain the most interesting things that happened and leave out the boring stuff, unless its something that need to be there to support the plot. Just make sure the pacing is right and not that one person is talking way and way too long and babbling on about something. It should be exciting and keep people watching as they would want to know what will happen next.

Don't write just a twist end
Currently allot people like scripting a movie with a twist end and allot of blockbuster does this too. However some has become a cliche, like having one of the good guys become the evil mastermind behind it all. But the main problem just to write a movie that is all about the twist at the end, these movies often aren't great to watch a second time because of this. But also the problem with allot of people writing these stories, often just too focussed on the end while the rest becomes just a filler. And often these fillers are just horrible, slow paced and boring, until you hit the end when the plot unfolds and everybody already hate watching it. The thing is as I said above take them on an adventure, most good twist end movies, the whole movie before the twist end should be interesting too. Like "Usual Suspects" the whole movie alone be interesting even it the story continues with another end instead of a twist. So the twist should not be the main focus but could be used to make the story end in an unexpected way, but do know the twist still needs to be believable and has ties to the rest of the story.

Make things believable
A movie you can put allot stuff from your imaginations in it, however there still need to be a hint of that it might be able to happen in real life. As this might be a trend thing but it seem to be happening more often. As allot of the audience gets more knowledge about things, if something existing is used in an impossible way, people would notice it. Especially cause of programs like Mythbusters and allot of other things, people rather see something the could be more real and more believable. Even Batman has changed over the years and making things even more believable or tech that is so advanced that nobody really could question if it would work or not. Or make them over the top weird that you mean them to be different in the film world.

Timing and pacing
When a scenes just takes too long write down the bare essentials of it. Especially when showing long dialogs between people. Mainly you don't want to see one person explaining something for too long which could become boring. Just make sure all the necessary information were given, especially in short films people attention is very important. You also don't want some scenes be unnecessary short, as they would feel un important and can be left out and maybe if they aren't really that important, they could really be left out.

Write the story that fits the actors that you have in mind. Cause it useless if you would write a character that is totally the opposite of the look and the character of your actor, as it would be easy to believe the character they are playing. Its kind of stereotyping a person on their looks, but it actually works and making your movie more believable. A director of a prison should look like some dictator that had a really hard time working there handling scum of the earth and had allot of wrinkles cause of the hardschip in life he has gone through working there. And would not be some smooth skinned pale young fella that hasn't had to work or do anything in his life. Even though stereotyping is rude but in the movies it a custom, and gives the movie actually a layer of realism as the people be more believable.

Write what is in your power
This is easier said then done, but from experience its better to write something you could film instead of something over the top difficult with crazy stuff on crazy locations. As you might think getting a Taxi is easy but it still quite expensive in Europe to pay for one just to stand still for one hour. Also getting a street full of cyclist and flying a drone over them is easier said than done. Especially finding huge quantity of people to fill a street is not that easy. However if you could even find a solutions to do a certain scene, you could write it in, but not if its totally out of borders.

Let people review the script who wasn't involved in the script writing process and leave out a synopsis which explained the whole movie, but let them read the script and see if they under stand it or find it good or not. Because everyone knowledge is different and you might be able to get time and changes that would help making your movie better or make more sense to the scenes. For example I have zero experience with having a relationship and I can still write a love story, but the view point of mine could be totally different than one who has been with tons of people in a relationship and explain more about their habits.

Gather stories
A good way to learn more stories to read books, but another way is to talk to people and listen to their life stories as often you could hear amazing stories which could be written into a script. But also the other thing is to write about your personal experience in life. You could go to places, take odd jobs and meet new people, as every single bit of informations could help you to write a better story. But also keep a black book or type it on your phone as you could think of a story anywhere at any time and could just write it out, another great thing is to just write the entire synopsis so you would remember the main story. But the better be having a recorder or have a recorder app on your phone and just tell the story and later listen too it and write it down.

Writing an open end
This is an interesting one as an open end would let people think or know there must be something that happens next. Its not an abrupt end to the story but most of the good open ends leaves you also with a good mystery, making you think which way it actually ended. Like Inception closed with an open end making you thing did he just dream or is this his real life.

Breaking the rules
As there isn't really any rules and listed above are just think you can keep in mind, to improve your story. But also think out of the box, because when you work too much inside a set list of rules. you would not be able to think of something that nobody had thought about before. Also you can make people think about the difference between yours and others, as allot of movies has certain cliche or situations where the characters would behave in a way something is normal, while its different in real life which on its own could even be a whole story.

Write it as a pilot
The most interesting thing you can do with a short movie is to make it into something big like a feature film or a tv series. You just want make sure to sell the story well and that people would see a potential of making it even bigger or hunger for more. However TV pilots and series has a certain formula which intrigue people to watch each episode however often an episode can stand on it own also, however this is quite a difficult formula to explain but its one you should explore. And explore if it be a great story for a feature film, however you need to make it compact enough to be a short film. Yet not as compact that its feels like its just one scene which missing the rest of the movie.

Why I wrote this?
Currently I want to write down my current view point on things, as I am going to compete with all the 48 Hour Film Projects in The Netherlands and have already done two of them this year and had tons of previous experience in Hong Kong. And I am pretty accurate in pointing which movie has the highest chance of winning. The most important thing is to really keep the audience on their edge of their seat wanting to see what happens and actually doing over the top 80s action movie wouldn't really work. And in certain countries doing over the top Art House would win especially if you do that in Hong Kong, but atleast in The Netherlands they have a better taste than that choosing a movie with a good story and also good visuals. While most of the contestants actually chooses more a good visual over the story. But the upcoming 48 Hour Film in Amsterdam, I would finally be able to compete with showing my full potential writing, co directing and being the DP of the movie.