Short Film Story Structure

This post originally appeared on the Short Films blog. While it’s a blog aimed at filmmakers, this particular post has a lot of great tips and advice about writing.

Short story structure demands that you abandon all ideas of forming your own brand of storytelling. The rules are very simple: comply to the form that sells, or you don’t sell.

Short story structure has been around since the beginning of time. You can read short stories in the Bible and on cave walls. They all have the same structure; so don’t try to reinvent the wheel.


Every short story has a theme – that invisible thread that runs from beginning to end, delivering a silent message to the reader. For example, Moby Dick wasn’t about hunting whales. It was about revenge. Gone With the Wind wasn’t about love. It was about Scarlet O’Hara’s manipulation and control and how it led to her devastation.

So – what is your story aboutc When you know the overall theme, think of the middle scene – the plot. What will be the one scene that will turn the whole storyc Get that firmly in your mind, take notes on it, and then head your whole story toward that objective.

Every story must have conflict, and without it, you are dead in the water. What is your conflict. There are five kinds:

· Man vs. man – any kind of man, woman, or child conflicting with anyone else

· Man vs. nature – any kind of conflict where man battles nature, whether it be a storm or wild animal

· Man vs. self – I advise new writers to stay away from this one. It deals with a man, woman or child battling with themselves. It is difficult to bring this kind of story to a good resolution.

· Man vs. society – man, woman or child battling with peers, groups, society, organizations, authority, etc.

· Man vs. machine – fantasy stories with aliens or machines


Where to Begin:

Don’t begin at the beginning. For example, opening a story with a normal scene no longer works. Today’s readers are an action-oriented group that bases their entertainment on electronic toys, fast-paced movies, and faster paced stories, so start your first paragraph with gripping action. It can be part of a flashback, or even the middle of a scene. 


Read the rest of the post, including the extensive Q&A section at the end, on the Short Films blog.

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