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    Some Writing Tools for Short Screenplays
    #1
    Still Alive Mod Jack Daniel Stanley's Avatar
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    EDIT/NOTE: Also, Jared Meyer found this article on structuring 5 minute films.
    http://www.channel101.com/articles/a...?article_id=29
    While the flash fiction points below are general strategies, the article gets into act structure and length for a 5 minute movie.


    Here's some advice on writing "Flash Fiction", i.e. ultra short fiction for the web.

    Unlike The Novel and the Full Length Screenplay, which bear some similarities in strategy and form, this structure and methods for Flash Fiction and Flash Films, fairly identical.

    So I'm cutting and pasting what I found here, because it echoes my own sentiments to a "T" and it's easier than writing it all out myself.

    Though I can take or leave #6, you will find that the most successful films in past DVXuser fests have made use of a fair number of the rest of the 7 points.

    I've ignored 1,2 or 3 at my own peril and as a result I have some "flashily edited" shorts that cram lots of info into 5 or 6 minutes, but if you have a good idea and can take advantage of some or most of the formal strategies below, then you will be will be will be well on your way to doing very well in a DVXuser Fest.


    EDIT / NOTE: This is not a "you must have a twist ending" thread, nor is it a "twist ending is always the way to go" thread. This is just food for thought. Likely one or a few of the points will be of use to someone. The twist ending is just 1 of the 7 points that may be of use to the writer of incredibly short fiction on the screen or page. The value you give it relative to the other points is up to you. Having said that - it's not my intent to discourage discourse on the subject, just to clarify the intent of the thread. OK ... here's the tips ...

    ...

    Writing Flash Fiction
    By G. W. Thomas
    With the advent of the Internet, editors are looking for shorter works, more easily read on a computer screen. The current term is "flash fiction", a tale between 300-1000 words long. Longer than micro-fiction (10-300 words) but shorter than traditional short stories (3000-5000 words preferred by most magazines), flash fiction is usually a story of a single act, sometimes the culmination of several unwritten events.

    This article will offer several strategies for writing flash fiction. Used by themselves or in combination, the writer can focus their story to that brief, interesting event.

    1) The small idea
    Look for the smaller ideas in larger ones. To discuss the complex interrelationship of parents and children you'd need a novel. Go for a smaller piece of that complex issue. How kids feel when they aren't included in a conversation. What kids do when they are bored in the car. Middle child. Bad report card. Find a smaller topic and build on it.

    2) Bury the preamble in the opening
    When you write your story, don't take two pages to explain all the pre-story. Find a way to set it all in the first paragraph, then get on with the rest of the tale.

    3) Start in the middle of the action
    Similar to #2, start the story in the middle of the action. A man is running. A bomb is about to go off. A monster is in the house. Don't describe any more than you have to. The reader can fill in some of the blanks.

    4) Focus on one powerful image
    Find one powerful image to focus your story on. A war-torn street. An alien sunset. They say a picture worth a thousand words. Paint a picture
    with words. It doesn't hurt to have something happen inside that picture. It is a story after all.

    5) Make the reader guess until the end
    A little mystery goes a long way. Your reader may have no idea what is going on for the majority of the story. This will lure them on to the end. When they finish, there should be a good pay off or solution.

    6) Use allusive references
    By using references to a commonly known story you can save yourself all those unnecessary words. Refer to historical events. Use famous situations from literature. If the story takes place on the Titanic you won't have to explain what is going to happen, who is there or much of anything. History and James Cameron have already done it for you. Beware of using material that is too obscure. Your reader should be able to make the inferences.

    7) Use a twist
    Like #5, the twist ending allows the writer to pack some punch at the end of the story. Flash fiction is often twist-ending fiction because
    you don't have enough time to build up sympathetic characters and show how a long, devastating plot has affected them. Like a good joke, flash fiction is often streamlined to the punch-line at the end.

    To read step by step examples from a short story by the writer see the original article
    HERE

    EDIT: A few more endings that work well on shorts.
    A STRONG BUTTON: In some way we get new information, the world is opened up, at the very least, some point is underscored.
    A CYCLICAL ENDING: This will all happen again.

    THE HIGH GROUND:

    THE STRAIGHT ENDING:
    Things progress in a straight line to a foreseeable or probable end.

    You are an artist and you reject the notion of a twist ending. You think they are cheep and gimmicky and insulting to the viewer and who knows, maybe you're right.

    The straight ending CAN work. It's just very hard to do in short fiction. In a feature, at the end of the 2nd act, you do every thing you can to suggest that the protag cannot possibly get what they set out to do.

    Then in the 3rd act they get something different and better than what they set out for which may just be a different perspective in the face of total failure.

    But you don't really have all that time to have the characters want something, spend time trying to get it, seem like they won't be able to get it, switch gears and get it another way or get something else, because you don't really have time to dwell on the end of the 2nd act.

    The idea with button, cyclical and twist endings is that they often seem to provide more order than the straight ending by making the viewer feel that there was some reason you just showed them what you showed them by very economical means. They lend themselves more to an "Ohhhhhhh, I get it" moment.

    What you may want to avoid is a completely straight trajectory where you suggest something might happen, and then it does, and then that's all there is to your film. This can potentially leave viewer with a "yes and?" feeling.

    While that might look like this in feature:
    1) Boy meets girl
    -----
    2) Boy pursues girl and makes some progress in the face of many setbacks until ...
    Something happens that will keep boy from ever getting girl. Oh no.
    -----
    3) Boy gets girl.

    (you could substitute Superman learns of a bomb threat, makes progress towards stopping it through a series of wins and losses with the bad guy, looks like he will certainly fail, then somehow wins)

    But in the short form, you run the risk of this happening:
    1) 1) Boy meets girl
    -----
    2) Boy pursues girl
    -----
    3) Boy gets girl

    This will almost invariably lead to the "yes and?" feeling. To pull it off you must give us a dazzling and rich character study and have the experience of what the characters are going through be enough for your pieces to stand on, or have some other element that's so well done it makes your piece worth watching ... in five or 6 minutes.

    Of course if you attempt this you'd probably start with what would be the end of the 2nd act in a feature.
    2.5) There is anbsolutely no way in hell that this boy and this girl (who are in the middle of their story) will ever be together,
    ----
    3) Somehow they get together

    For more see post #7.

    ...................

    Last edited by Jack Daniel Stanley; 11-13-2007 at 05:21 AM.
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    Great tips, Jack.

    Although, number seven is a personal pet peeve. I might be the only one totally annoyed by twists in shorts.
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    Producer Mod Brandon Rice's Avatar
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    Nice jack... I followed most of those ideas
    Please subscribe to my YOUTUBE CHANNEL to see all of my projects.

    New short film THE APPOINTMENT now available to see!


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    The Dude Abides Mark Johnson's Avatar
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    Thanks very very much, Jack.

    Kholi, you don't like twists in shorts? (I'll avoid succumbing to making a crack about testicular tortion here and, instead, merely refer folks to the Scrotal Safety Commission: http://www.scrotalsafetycommission.com/


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    L O L Mark J.

    That's just bad.
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    Producer Mod Brandon Rice's Avatar
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    You know it! LOL
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    Still Alive Mod Jack Daniel Stanley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kholi View Post
    Great tips, Jack.

    Although, number seven is a personal pet peeve. I might be the only one totally annoyed by twists in shorts.
    I feel you dawg.

    Hopefully if it is earned, though, and not just tacked on then the twist ending works.

    There have been really succesful twists in the fests and some that worked and were more satisfying than a flat ending, but were more gimmicky.

    A few thoughts.

    As the writer points out above,
    --- you don't have time to establish a real emotional connection, so the piece needs to be buttoned in some way that feels complete.

    --- I think the issue even more than that is somewhat structural. In a feature film we have time to
    1) set up an expectation
    2) make it seem that the expectation will fail (even though we never really believe it will)
    3) and then fulfill the expectation

    In a short you have time to either
    1) Set up an Expectation
    2) Fulfill it
    or
    1) Set up an Expectation
    2) Deny it

    To use the most obvious exmaple:
    Boy Meets Girl
    Boy Looses Girl
    Boy Shows up at the Airport and Gets Girl Back
    In a feature this works because we have time to invest in the end of the second act where all hope is lost (Boy Looses Girl) so that when he meets her at the airport and gets her back, or says "You complete me" there is (hopefully) an emotional pay off.

    But how many shorts have you seen that left you with a
    "Yes and?" feeling at the end.

    That is because they are just
    BOY MEETS GIRL
    BOY KEEPS HER
    or
    BOY MEETS GIRL
    BOY LOOSES HER

    The first scenario will definitely leave you with a "Yes and?" feeling because there is no conflict. "Yes and?" Meaning, why did I watch that, what was the point of the story. It's like saying "I found a dollar bill." "Yes and?" "That's it. Pretty cool huh?" The twist which would make it worth mentioning to w friend would be "And ... it was my dollar bill. I initialed it and spent it 15 years ago on the other side of the country. Can you believe it came back to me?"

    The second senario may work better. A lot of people, myself included, love "Lost in Translation". But again in a feature we really have time to get to know these people and ponder what the film is about and what, if any, the point was. Maybe the point is that there is no point. In the ultra short film, this can leave a real feeling of incompleteness (though not always) and may also be a "yes and?" situation.

    To me,however , and this may be a notion that you can stomach a bit better Kholi, the TWIST need not turn the universe upside down. It just needs to expand it so that we see there was a point for dropping in on these characters AT THIS SPECIFIC TIME. In this sense it could be thought of as a BUTTON rather than a twist.

    Also another ending that works really well in shorts is the CYCLICAL ending. This is all going to repeat itself again (see CHECK from Spyfest)

    Here are some examples of button and twist endings from past fests.
    SPOILER ALERTS BELOW
    Remember I consider the BUTTON ending a type of TWIST ENDING
    Pardon me for using some of my films, I just know them best of course.

    S I M I L O
    TWIST: the lover her robot is replacing was a robot that was actually capable of loving her.

    REKINDLED
    TWIST: She's actually dead (yes that old chestnut) BUTTON: the solution to their problem is killing him too.

    NO MIDDLE GROUND
    TWIST: One of the badguys is an agent all along.

    SHED
    BUTTON: He's been building a suicide machine all along. Here it's about withholding an answer to a question that's been set up until the last few frames.

    CHECK
    CYCLICAL: Even though we do not fully understand the full nature of the mysterious stalkers that have dogged our main character for the duration of the film (nor are we intended too), the cyclical ending feels satisfying and complete when the stalkers overtake the main character and he becomes one of them and the process begins again with a new victim.

    BONE HAND
    BUTTON / CYCLICAL: She's transformed to become like the superhero that saved her.

    TEXAS FORTUNE:
    TWIST: The Hero is actually the bad guy. DOUBLE TWIST / BUTTON: The Victim turns the tables on the badguy, and then becomes a badguy himself!!!!!!!
    Last edited by Jack Daniel Stanley; 08-23-2007 at 11:37 PM.
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    Well thought-out response, Jack. I actually agree with you on all points, and have accepted that a "twist" in short films tends to "sell" the best, regardless.

    It's honestly just something I have a hard time committing to in my own work/writing.

    When constructed with a host of thought, the twist ending is most-certainly gratifying.

    In TEXAS FORTUNE, I kinda feel that it's less of a twist and more character development. That this "good guy" became a three-dimensional being at the end, although he doesn't have a chance to come back to the light. That could be seen as a twist, however.

    Conundrum.
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    Still Alive Mod Jack Daniel Stanley's Avatar
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    MORE SPOILERS FOR TEXAS FORTUNE

    Quote Originally Posted by Kholi View Post

    In TEXAS FORTUNE, I kinda feel that it's less of a twist and more character development. That this "good guy" became a three-dimensional being at the end, although he doesn't have a chance to come back to the light. That could be seen as a twist, however.

    Conundrum.
    Well that's the second twist, more part of the resolution and is a bit of a cyclical ending - not the main twist of the story, IMHO.

    The fact that the GOOD GUY turns out to be a conman badguy is the main twist and a TWIST INDEED. The rest, the victim becoming the badguy, is just the resolution. But the twist is that the Cowboy is manipulating the zombie for profit, that's a fairly original idea (as original as ideas ever are) and made me go "cool" inside my head when I saw it. I would agree with you that the victim becoming the badguy is a deepening of that character.
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    That was definitely a rather unique idea, agree on that! And, it's interesting the different perspective on work you'll get from different peoples. I didn't venture into Texas Fortune's thread enough to really get to discussing what was thought-- and it certainly deserved discussion.

    On about twists: I think another reason I've got a very slight issue with such is that I've always felt that a "twist" should immediately recontextualize the entire story. Not just bits and pieces, but nearly every single scene.

    I think that's what I define as a "twist" and should probably open myself up to the different variations of it.

    A [Good] example includes THE PRESTIGE.


    On the entirety of the topic: It's really a great way to approach short narrative work. Iconic is always a great way to go for short work, as it's recognizable to the masses.
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