I'm planning to shoot and direct my own short, small budget science fiction movie as a long term project to learn more about movie making.

However, I'm at the very start where I need to write a draft story for others to provide feedback on and my question is this:

Should I first write a traditional short story and then adapt that into a screenplay or, since this is for a movie, go straight into writing a detailed screenplay?


8 Answers 8


I've written 9 screenplays and have one made into a film, Solitary.

I always write directly to screenplay format. It's a terse form that requires you to think and write visually and that form, while restrictive, helps you to create scenes that are short and to the point.

Short stories tend to have no restrictions to what you can write and will promote sloppy screenwriting. In a screenplay, you only write what can be seen and you write mostly in the present tense, e.g. "Joe runs up to the door" as opposed to, "Joe ran to the door".

Short stories have none of these restrictions and so writing to the screenplay format will help you a lot.

Having said that, you must know your story before writing it. Some people like to "discover" their stories as they write them, which is just fine as long as you are prepared to do a page one rewrite once you've discovered your characters and story.

There is no single way to write a screenplay, but I'd suggest that you read at least 4 to 5 screenplays before starting. I spent 6 months reading and learning before I embarked on my first screenplay which took another 6 months to complete with a couple of rewrites over the years.

Good luck.


If this is for a short, I suggest writing a treatment first and trying to shoot directly from it. Improvise. Then, and only then, you'll have a clear idea what you will need further down the road in larger productions.

Writing a treatment is basically writing a short story, with a certain structure. Structure depends on your preference, of course. However, for your first foray you might try writing a 3 act structure. 1/4 for setup, 2/4 for confrontation and 1/4 for resolution - with first and second act ending in, so called, plot points.

I know it might sound formulaic at first, but you can get pretty damn far with that. More info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure and I suggest reading books, or attending workshops on the subject.

Especially recommended are


(I'm not a screenwriter, but I've studied the process.)

I'm assuming you're talking about writing the script for the short movie, and not for a second feature-length movie.

In general, you don't want to start writing your script until you absolutely know your story. There are a number of ways to get your story down: an outline, a treatment (which is basically an outline in paragraph form), or just in your head. The third is probably the toughest to do because you can't show it to anyone, and you can't store it losslessly.

My suggestion is to first write a pitch, which is a basic statement of your characters, their motivation, and what happens in the story. Tell your pitch to some people to see if it's compelling. If it's working for you, write out an outline so you know exactly what each scene will do. From there, writing the actual script is a snap.

I think it's better to show people completed scripts. It shows you're committed to the project and communicates clearly what you want to shoot.


A screenplay can be much less wordy than a short story since the screenplay is not the final product--the film is. I suggest going straight to the script.

My problem is that I have very little free time to write and film (outside of my day job). If I let myself get bogged down in things that don't lead directly to the production of a film, then that film will never happen. Don't get involved in something that will hurt your momentum.


I'm not a movie expert either, but for all the same reasons Bernardo suggests, I think you should create a detailed outline and storyboards rather than either a short story or a screenplay.

You want to tell the story before filming it. You need feedback to make sure the story works. However, the details you can use in a short story (where visuals are no object) are very different from those you use in filming.

For example, let's say your villian is the traditional Bug-Eyed Monster (BEM) with a whole bunch of slimy tentacles. In a short story, you can describe how the BEM slithers and squelches across the room, how the muscles undulate in each limb as it heaves its stinking bulk forward, how the acidic slime sizzles as it eats away the carpet. Scary, dramatic, effective. As a writer, you can keep piling on impossible details (the BEM can become invisible, it has basilisk eyes which turns its prey to stone, it can sing Russell Watson songs) to your heart's content.

But as a filmmaker, you have very different constraints.

You have a budget for SFX. You have to create the BEM puppet or spring for the computer and software (and tech person) to create the monster's movement. You'll need to get a greenscreen set and several suits to make the invisibility effect work. You have to get enough ear protection for everyone in the room when the creature starts singing "Faith of the Heart."

Writing an outline will help you make sure the plot works. Storyboards will help you ensure you can actually film the thing. Then you write the screenplay.


Find a screen writing group and see how they work. It will give you a venue for feedback on your work and it will give you access to a group of people who have developed a process to get feedback on their work.


I'm not a movie expert, but I think you should start by writing the traditional short draft story.

This way, you have something to show to people and get feedback of the story and they even can help you with some ideas for the screenplay and the footage. People often can imagine the story they are reading, inside their heads (that's one of the good reasons to read the book instead of seeing the book's film adaptation).

Moreover, you can tie up your ideas for the movie before minding with the details of the screenplay.


I think you should start with a beat sheet; like Blake Snyder's 15 beat sheet, or Noam Kroll's 40 beat sheet, which expands on Snyder's.

You don't have to hit every beat, of course, especially for a short film, but films do roughly follow this outline and timing.

When you are done with the Kroll beat sheet, each beat is 2-3 pages in screenplay format to get to 100-120 pages of screenplay. Adjust and eliminate to get down to your short film length. You might eliminate most of the second Act, for example, or condense it to a few pages.

The "fun and games" section may be very short.

The problem with discovery writing (which is what I do, finding the story as I go) is that it is not well suited to the tight timing required in a screenplay. If you are "discovering" your story, it is best to do it in outline form (which is what beat sheets are). When you think you've got your scenes down, it is easier to write those sections, and they will tie together. You can even include the specific dialogue or action sequences you want to be sure is in each beat.

To me, the problem with trying to write the full blown screenplay from scratch is I exceed the page limit about a third or halfway through; and see no good way to cut it down. Controlling the length is paramount, so each scene is precious. For me that means thinking long and hard about how to make each scene and every line of dialogue do a lot of work, double or triple duty; something that is not so important in a novel.

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