By: Laura Huie
Suffering from screenwriter’s block? Or maybe it’s your first time writing a short film screenplay. We have put together the following list of 10 activity prompts that together will help you create the first draft of a ten-minute short film script in just ten days.
Sometimes it is easier to get on with your screenwriting when you have guidance. Sometimes when you have a specific focus for your attention. Using bite-sized, daily screenwriting exercises, we’ll take you through the basic elements you need to craft an effective short film.
As a new writer, getting a script produced is a transformative career milestone that can open new opportunities and help you pitch your stories to producers, managers, and agents. Writing a short film script is an excellent way to start. And who knows? What you write within these coming ten days could end up being one of the short films that get financed and produced as part of our Short Film Fund.
DAY ONE: FIND AN IDEA
Start by finding a solid story idea that your short film can depend on. Take out a piece of paper and a pen, set a timer for 15-30 minutes, and list out some simple story ideas that could be written as a short film script. Think of the curious situations we sometimes find ourselves in, in real life. There is potential for a story in each of them. Then, narrow down your list to your two best ideas. Ask yourself which of these two could be the most producible short and has the most compelling conflict. That’s your idea!
DAY TWO: CHARACTERS
Although this will be a ten-minute film, there still needs to be a strong sense of character for the audience to root for. Not all of your characters’ backstories need to be shown, but your story still needs to convey your protagonist’s personality and motivation. So, who is your protagonist? What is their primary goal? What are their flaws and how might these affect the plot and the storytelling itself? Also, if you have time, take a stab at answering these questions about who or what is going to act as your antagonist.
DAY THREE: SETTING
A setting is the time and place of the story. Setting can either be outwardly articulated or suggested to the audience. Try to stick with one location in your short film. Realistically, minimizing the number of locations will be more enticing to producers. Consider a setting that enhances a turning point in your story or elevates the drama of the story’s climax.
DAY FOUR: OUTLINING
Writing a short film is less lengthy than a feature film but it still involves many of the same crucial elements. A brief outline ensures you have all your pieces in place early in the writing process. In this case, focus on the big picture elements: the inciting incident, the climax, and the resolution. You can fill in the rest of the story later, but first, you’ll want to see the broad strokes to make sure you have enough for a compelling short film. As you outline, ask yourself what your protagonist wants in each act or scene.
DAY FIVE: THE BEGINNING
Now it’s time to start writing—think of this as Act One is the traditional three-act structure. This will make up about 25% of your short film or 2-3 pages of your script. Establish where we are, who is the main character, and what is their goal within these first few pages. Set up what the story is going to be, allude to the stakes, and lead up to the inciting incident.
DAY SIX: THE TRANSFORMATION
Act Two will comprise about 50% of your short film or around 5 pages of your script. Now we are into the heart of the story. What or who does your protagonist confront? What is the transformational event that propels your character through this story? A stellar short film focuses on one major event that forces the protagonist through a distinct and specific transformation. Each scene in Act Two needs to move the story forward while either raising the stakes and/or presenting hurdles toward the protagonists’ ultimate goal.
DAY SEVEN: THE CONCLUSION
The final 25%, or 2-3 pages, of your short film, is Act 3. Before concluding your film, your protagonist must reach their lowest point or their “dark night of the soul”—whatever that might mean in your story world. Through this experience, your protagonist will go through a major change and emerge anew at the resolution. As Act Three winds down, tie up all the loose ends. And since this is a short film, we recommend not leaving off on a cliffhanger; however, it’s best to leave the audience with a major theme or idea to think about.
DAY EIGHT: PITCH PRACTICE
Prepare a two-minute elevator pitch about your short film. Pitch your script with friends in a group and see what you can learn about how to communicate your story to others. If it’s difficult to fully convey what your story is about, along with the characters and plot, you may have to go back and clarify your story some more and then consider what needs to change in your script to reflect that.
DAY NINE: POLISH & PROOFREAD
Let’s put the finishing touches on your short film script! Read your script out loud to make sure your writing and dialogue flow smoothly. Don’t be afraid to make changes and try to be as objective as possible when it comes to analyzing your story’s core elements. If you have time, get somebody else to read it as well. It’s always good to get a second (or even third) pair of eyes on your writing.
DAY TEN: TAKE A BREAK & PLAN YOUR NEXT MOVES
Well done! You’ve completed a ten-minute short film script within ten days! Now go out and do something else other than writing. Extra points if you go somewhere where you can hear and see real people interact. This experience can offer a perfect final polish to dialogue and character descriptions. But just for today put your new script aside, leave it alone. Come back with fresh eyes tomorrow and give your script one more review. Then you’ll be ready to think about taking your script out to the wider world.
Laura Huie is an experienced writer and editor involved in comedy-drama screenwriting, fiction editing, and full-time marketing copy. Laura is also a freelance article writer for Shore Scripts and has worked with Script Pipeline on their live Symposium series. She is one-half of screenwriting duo, Bloom & Huie. Together, they have written multiple television series as well as a feature-length film. Their mission is to write honest and witty female stories wrapped up in unbelievable worlds.
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