30 Ways Writing Shorts Made Me a Better Writer

Posted by CJ Walley
Richard "RB" Botto Richard "RB" Botto

Our guest blogger today is screenwriter, CJ Walley. CJ started writing in 2012 and, over an intense two years, has had one script featured on the Amazon Studios Consideration Slate, two features spotlighted on The Black List, and a short produced by an up-and-coming director.

Not bad.

But while there’s no denying that CJ is a hell of a writer, it’s his personality and giving spirit that really shines through. CJ is a regular in the Stage 32 Lounge, always ready and willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who asks. His positive spirit always shines through.

Hyperbole, you say? I’ll let this line from his bio act as my defense:

“It doesn't matter to me if it's Tarantino or Twilight, I always try to look for the good in everything.”

My kind of guy…And clearly much more of a positive guy than I…I found nothing redeemable in Twilight.

But I digress.

To see CJ’s loglines and synopsis, please click here. And for our literary managers and agents on the site, CJ is currently seeking representation.

My thanks to CJ for his contribution to the Stage 32 blog.

Enjoy!

RB

Last summer I was forlornly staring at my computer, a feature spec on the screen and came to the realization in my mind it would likely never sell. As I mourned the loss of my creative baby and remembered the good times, I just couldn’t pull the plug on the first five pages. So I turned them into a short, which I was fortunate enough to have produced.

Since then I’ve written many more. I’m finding that not only does it really help hammer home disciplines I should be applying to my feature writing, but it’s also helping me gain market exposure, reputation and industry contacts.

In fact I’ve gained so much from the experience I’m offering 30 reasons why any writer should consider investing time in shorts.

1. You Focus More on Story

Shorts force you to tackle story head on. They also give you the option to tell stories that are best when briefly told or don’t fit in with common structure.

2. You Refine Your Development Process

Writing features means we may tackle development as little as once a year. This is the foundation we build our scripts upon and honing that process is essential. You refine that process in shorts.

3. You Get to Try out New Genres

And you may find you’re better suited to them than you think. Going outside your comfort zone is far more approachable and enjoyable when you’re committing less.

4. You Get More Freedom to Speak

Shorts don’t need to be highly commercial so you’re not constrained by appeal. You don’t have to please the masses - you can take risks and get on your soapbox.

5. You Learn to Respect Budget

Do you need that shooting time? That character? Is the location viable with no budget? Are any special FX affordable? Props obtainable? Vehicles rentable?

6. You Really Have to Make Every Line Count

A very limited page count forces you to trim hard. You resist over describing. You need subtext. You say more with less. You say it without words.

7. You Focus on Emotion

Without excessive action, you create impact from emotion. Every beat has to drive the story forward in a compelling fashion. Every scene must maximize conflict.

8. You Learn to Build Character Fast

You have mere seconds to make your protagonist likable and characters multi-dimensional. Any backstory has to be implied with minor detail and the most brief of dialogue.

9. You Come to Appreciate how Short a Scene Can Be

You find yourself writing powerful scenes with little or no dialogue. You discover you can fit four very telling scenes in a single page.

10. You Can Add to Your Portfolio Fast

Refine and develop your concept on Monday, draft until Wednesday, re-write until Friday. Your portfolio rapidly fills with a diverse range of writing samples.

11. You Get to Practice Writing Loglines

You learn to focus on the fundamentals of your story and present it in an appealing way. Once you go to market, you gain insight into what appeals by trial and error.

12. Promotion is Free.

Stage 32 allows you to upload loglines and scripts, plus is also regularly visited by filmmakers requesting shorts. InkTip hosts short listings indefinitely for free.

13. You Learn to Deal With Read Requests

You get to develop your professional manner. You learn how to research those who contact you. You become hardened to taking pass after pass after pass.

14. You Connect With Others When it Really Matters

Everybody has to start somewhere and those you align with now may go on to become significantly more influential.

15. You Can Quickly Redraft

Upon every read request you can quickly read through your short, make improvements and catch typos. You will often remind yourself how good you are or how far you’ve come.

16. You Get to Practice Negotiating

If a filmmaker wants to produce your short, you’ll likely want to discuss terms such as writer credit, intellectual property and exclusivity.

17. It Doesn’t Matter You’re Not Going to Make Money

Because nobody else will. The producer may be losing money but they are investing in you. The crew uses their own equipment (no cost) and actors traveling into set do so after getting time off work (no cost). It’s a win-win.

18. A Short Might be Selling Your Feature

Some of your shorts may make good teasers or trailers for your features. Or the producer may want to take things further in the future.

19. Going Into Production Humbles You

Any arrogance you have is quickly shed as you hope you’re not embarrassing yourself and the people who have put faith into your work.

20. You Appreciate Production More

You find out if you know how to share an fdx file. You learn to overcome confusion and obstacles. You admire each individual role from casting to DOP to makeup.

21. You Accept and Embrace Difference in Creative Opinion

Opinion that may be born out of shooting and resource limitations. Or perhaps improvements based around the valuable experience and insight others have.

22. You Tackle Sitting and Waiting

During production you may sit around for months biting your nails in anticipation. You learn to bury that anxiety, break the paralysis and keep writing.

23. You Become Less Controlling

Hitting play on a completed short is hard. Everything will likely be different to what you imagined, but you quickly come to appreciate and admire why.

24. You Learn About Simple Writing Mistakes

Any clumsy dialogue becomes obvious. Poor pacing, lack of movement and excessive scene length highly apparent.

25. You Respect What Others Bring to the Table

Editors may cut up your scenes. Costume may dress your character different to how you imagined. Actors may trim lines or change wording. Most probably all for the better.

26. You Gain Industry Reputation

If five people work on one of your shorts, they know about you, your work and how easy you are to work with. That’s five voices working their way up the industry.

27. You May Have a Useful Feedback Tool

Not everybody enjoys or understands the format scripts are written in. Asking them to watch a short video will likely be more welcomed.

28. A Short Helps Sell You

You gain a credit which gives you more validity to help you sell yourself. If the short is shown at reputable festivals, that credit may become applicable on IMDB.

29. Others Will Be Selling You

The director, actors and crew are going to be promoting any short produced. Every time it’s played, regardless of if it’s on Stage 32 or Vimeo or a major festival, it promotes you.

30. You Make New Friends

Friends who are also on a journey where your paths may cross again. And even if they rapidly outgrow you, being part of their success will only feel warm and rewarding.

So has this list caused you to consider writing shorts? Have you previously been, or still remain skeptical to their value? Have you had success with a short? Or can you add any more reasons to write them?

 

Some Tips and Further Details

For an example of terms and conditions for producing shorts, you can visit my website.

For InkTip’s free shorts listing service visit here - you’ll need to supply your copyright details during submission.

There is no fixed page count for shorts, anything less than feature length fits the definition. Festivals like shorts less than 10 minutes as they’re easy to block into a schedule. Raindance suggest a script length of 7-8 pages. The shorter you go, the more you’ll push yourself and the more rewarding you’ll find it.

Some screenplay competitions have a category for shorts and some are short specific. You can also enter short script challenges occasionally run on screenwriting communities such as Done Deal Pro.

CJ is available for remarks or questions in the Comments section below. Fire away.

 

 
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