Movie Critiques
Top 20 Problems
Human Condition
What Kind World?
Read for Fun
Home Page
Reference Shelf
Story Ideas
How To Write
A Movie
Quick Start
Prom Date
Getting Started
What to Write
Writing Methods
Short Scripts
Types of scripts
Slug line
Scene Description Lines
Helpful Things
Stop Theft!
Teacher's Information
About This Guide

Set-ups For Short Scripts

Plot | Character


Ten-to-twenty-minute short stories don't have time to give character histories, introduce many characters, make elaborate plot setups, or do much unwinding at the end. They have few characters, simple and direct plots, and no unwinding. 

The synopsis for Prom Date
, a thirty-minute story, is too long for a ten page story. If you write a similar story, launch right into the problem with Shaun having Tim ask Laura for a date for Shaun. Tim lies to Laura about Shaun, and asks for a date himself. He lies to Shaun, saying she already has a date. Shaun needs to talk to Dave the Geek about a math problem. Dave is also Laura's tutor and he tells Shaun that Laura actually likes him, but she is going to the prom with Tim because he asked first. Shaun immediately wants to fight Tim, but Dave tells him not to act like Tim, but to talk to Laura like a real person, and just refute the lies. If Laura wants to go with him, she has reason enough to dump Tim. Shaun realizes Dave is really a nice guy. He overcomes his shyness and convinces Laura that Tim told her lies, and gets the prom date.

For short scripts, choose less complicated problems. Use no more main characters than necessary. Know exactly what the story is about and don't sidetrack. For example, this short version is about overcoming shyness and what can happen if shyness prevents you from taking responsibility for your life. Any subplot should be very integrated with the main plot so it doesn't take time to develop by itself. The main subplot is that Shaun's communicating with Dave brought understanding of Dave and opened up an entire new world of friendship and benefits, The second subplot, which is undeveloped in the above short synopsis, is Tim's bitter lesson of losing his best friend because of his selfish actions. The shorter the story, the fewer the obstacles and complications that should arise.

Characters For Short Scripts

If you meet a man at a bus stop, say hello and part, you learn very little about him. He could be an ax-murderer or a billionaire, or both. The same can happen in a short script, so it is essential to turn up the focus on the characters. There are several ways to do that. 

First, make sure the audience feels strongly about the characters. The good guy should be likable, the bad guy gut wrenching. For example, the first thing the bad guy might do is get angry and abuse something. Beyond that, the audience should feel for the situation. They might pity the good guy in his plight or admire him for facing danger, or feel outrage at the bad guy.

The character should have one, or at the most two, strong character traits. He might be very smart, but have no street smarts. Very perceptive. Very pushy. Very lazy. Very dishonest. Hint: bring strong traits out in subtle ways. Instead of the smart guy showing everyone up by answering a difficult question, let him give the answer later.

Whatever it is the character wants (his motivation) should be the main thing on his mind, if not the only thing, from page one to page last. For example, if Julie loses her mother's very expensive ring and really wants to find it before her parents get home from their trip, she won't be distracted by requests for dates, visits to her grandparents, and watching television all day. However, something on equal par, like the risk of losing a previously scheduled date with her dream-boat of two years, might be an interesting complication, especially if he becomes the key to finding the lost ring.

The characters should surround themselves with symbols of their character. The power executive might dress in a pin stripe suit, wing-tip shoes, power tie, and carry a thin leather briefcase with a portable phone inside. He jets to the islands for the weekend, has club memberships, serves on committees. He drives a BMW with a Fax machine. He has a large house inside a burb with a privacy wall, an exercise machine in one room, a dog who bites him, and a kid he calls by the wrong name. Down the street lives a poor seven-year-old boy in a two-bed apartment, with a dog named Bones, and Aunt Carey, who would do anything for him. He dresses in distressed blue jeans, clean pull over shirts and sneakers. In a vacant lot he has a Head Hunter's club that collects dead animal skulls and doll heads, which are used primarily to frighten away girls. 



You are free to give this article in its entirety to others (small groups, under 100) as long as the copyright with my name (Dorian Scott Cole) is included. This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole. Complementary distribution (unpaid - no charge) will not be charged for. Visit the Visual Writer Web site for e-mail address information.

Main and Contents page
Main site home page:

Page URL:
Author, Webmaster:  Dorian Scott Cole
Copyright © 1994, 1998 Dorian Scott Cole
Dynamic site: pages are subject to change, and site additions are made regularly.