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How to write a short film.

There is no better way to tell a story than a short film. With the explosion of social platforms, short films are widely accepted as a beautiful means of entertainment. A universe of emotions can be contained in a short film of 5 to 20 minutes. Writing and scripting a short film is easier if you know how to map your journey. The limitation and freedom in resources, both need to be understood, but not before you start writing. Let us learn more about your favorite storytelling technique.

The craftsmanship of writing demands ample time. It is good to take a head start way ahead of actual production. Improvisation is good but secondary. Taking your time in mapping a sensible script is necessary.


Clarity of Goal

You may have a concept in mind that originated out of some motivation or situation. First and foremost, make sure to pen down the basic thought process. The core ideas you might remember but the branching thoughts might not stay for long. Build a habit to write it down. During this writing down ask a simple question – what should be my audience’s emotion when they watch this?

One is about to engage their feelings and deep dive into your story portrayal. You can imagine this engagement and write it as the prime purpose of the activity. Whatever be the professional motive of the work, this emotional goal helps the discipline of writing.

One major reason to have a clear goal is that these films are short and you have a smaller time-cap to reach the emotional peak and creative transitions. Singularity is purpose brings the thoughts together and makes you sum up in lesser time. Note that a small diversion can simply lead to increased production costs.


The Structure

Once the goal is clear, the concept must be broken down into sub-parts. The more detailed deconstruction will lead you to understand the psyche of what the audience experiences. From characters, their dresses, locations, emotional state, their age, and everything that you can think of. This analysis makes sure that you know the subtopics and don’t ignore the basic cues.

Just imagine that you have a story about a soldier who is coming to see his daughter for the first time but has lost one arm in the battle that her wife doesn’t know of. At the point where he realizes he is not able to hold his daughter, every single element in the frame becomes precious. You can pull the deepest strings of human emotions if the details are perfect. Right?

You have certain insights to include in your story that brings out every flavor of experience you want to impart. For example in the same story:

  • What war is he in, the time, era, and country?

  • Where does he land at the start and what shows that he is incapable of one arm?

  • How does the wife meet?

  • Setup of the house telling the conditions of the home.

These are just some of the things. You structure every element that leads to the anchor point and then transits into the emotion as per your main goal. This all is the elementary knowledge of the scene.



Start filling more details now. What all possibilities that can be explored within each scene must be carved out. Each character might have their own world and perception. Take your time and dig deeper on how to explain the situation without saying so much. Beware! Never assume that audience understands. Take a second opinion from time to time.

Imagine a wedding photographer. He was hired to a wedding and given details of location, type of work, and date. Now it is his responsibility to figure out the important people in the wedding, the locations for the shoot, his equipment setup, and the use of additional help for the perfect shoot.

Coming back to the story, the way the soldier loses his arm is not important. What’s important is how he is behaving now and that things telling that he has not lost his spirit. The smallest actions and dialogues can provide this dimension. Some other aspects can be the routine of the wife, maybe a small flashback of the couple’s older conversations before the war. Navigation is important that fills in the audience with subtle details. Shortchanging the topic and scenes is a difficult yet essential tool at times.


Essential context

A short film moves in an accelerated fashion. You must ask yourself a few contextual questions like –

  • Who are the protagonist and antagonist?

  • What are their intentions?

  • Why so?

  • What happens if they can’t achieve what they ask for?

  • Do they have an advantage over the other?

  • What will be their action to achieve their goal?

  • Who wins?

The hero and the villain don’t need to be characters or poles apart. It can be a situation vs a person or two heroes with different opinions. Race your thoughts to fit these questions in your context and answer them. Otherwise, you’ll end up writing a movie clip that doesn’t make sense to everyone. It may seem a limiting approach, but it keeps you in a focused context.



The people be recognizable. There is no room for putting the audience to guesswork, while they later question the use of character. They must be lured to peek into the character’s mind. Below exercises help the audience to understand your character more:

  • Character writes a journal.

  • The character is in an interrogation.

  • The character has a daily itinerary to follow.

  • The character is browsing his online social profile.

  • The character has put something on a dating profile

  • Imagine the items in characters' houses that are focused from time to time.

Above is just a spoonful of ideas and there are way more things you can do that make them particular and distinct. You have to illuminate the premise of the story taking the character along. People really love a tighter narrative for short films so too many characters and storylines can intertwine creating confusion.



The reason why people prefer to watch short films is that it has a faster payoff. A fast uphill climb and quick drop. Remember this but do not rush the whole story. If you think it is not reaching the ideal high, tweak the narrative a little. Giving a quality climax is your key responsibility.

Many writers think about ending the scene with a bang. The climax may jump out of the context of the initial premise and the audience might feel dumb. It is very tempting for any writer but discipline must take over when you write the end. The audience rewards relevance & coordination above flashiness and big bangs.


Key Takeaways

  • Get perfectly clear about the emotional goals of the film.

  • Breakdown the script into stages of experience.

  • Write different dimensions of the same story and use the ones that build sense and help achieve the goal.

  • Fit your write-up into essential context if possible.

  • Spend quality time with the characters and understand their thought process.

  • Finish with a disciplined and strong intention.

Follow the steps and you are good to go. Start your first short film story Now!


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