What Can Writing Short Scripts Do for You?


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by Naomi Write + Co. in entertainment industry, screenwriting

Today’s discussion was prompted by a question from client C.B., who writes:

As you know, I’m working my way through my script, but it still feels very overwhelming at times and it makes me wish I could come up with something brand new that’s “simpler” and easier to move around. 

So I thought I’d give short films a try. It just seems like a nice exercise. I feel like I could get feedback on it sooner and learn to manage all story parts a little bit better since it’s a more concise format. 
I know it’s different from features in a lot of ways, and that’s why I’d like to know whether you think it’d be useful for my learning process, or just an excuse to get away from a project that’s making me lose sleep.

Is writing short scripts a solution or a distraction?

This is a great question that touches on feelings that are common among writers. Who among us hasn’t found themselves mid-project, a little overwhelmed, maybe a little frustrated, and suddenly every other idea but the one you’re working on seems like a better option to pursue?

Writing a whole screenplay and taking it all the way through the process from development through writing and rewriting all the way to completion is a big job, and almost always takes longer than you expect. When you’re learning the craft, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, get discouraged, and give up during that long process.

So is writing short scripts the solution?

As with everything screenwriting, there isn’t one “right” answer here. Whether to set aside your feature project(s) in favor of writing short scripts depends on several factors, and only you can determine if that’s the right choice for you.

But it might be helpful to talk about some benefits and drawbacks in order to help you make that decision.

What can writing short scripts do for you?

One benefit that C.B. pointed out in her original email is that of the “quick win.” Finishing a 10-15 page short script is, obviously, a nearer goal to reach than finishing a 90-100 page feature script. And it’s a benefit not to be overlooked.

As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get discouraged and quit in the middle of a feature-length project, and an unfinished script does you very little good.

You’ll learn more from writing and rewriting one project than half-finishing three or four different projects that you never see through.

So if you feel yourself leaning toward quitting, perhaps writing a short script would give you a similar learning experience, just within the span of fewer pages.

Screenwriting requires proficiency in a bunch of interlocking skill sets, and writing short scripts also offers an opportunity within a shorter, often less-pressured arena, to practice some of those skills.

Short scripts are made up of scenes just like feature scripts, so writing short scripts allows you to practice scene work and dialogue.

Shorts also give you a chance to practice exploiting a concept for all it’s worth – that’s what the best shorts do really well. And that’s a skill that can translate directly to feature writing (hello Act 2).

And, as C.B. also mentioned in her email, thinking about and working with the various story elements might feel more manageable over a shorter narrative arc as well. Creating and escalating meaningful conflict in a short script can help you understand how to do the same on the larger scale of a feature script.

But before you toss aside your feature scripts, let’s also look at a couple of possible drawbacks of writing short scripts.

What can’t writing short scripts do for you?

I truly believe no writing is wasted, especially when you’re learning the craft. So whether you’re writing shorts, half-finished features, or something else, you are getting something out of the experience. But some writing might offer more from the experience and get you closer to your goals than others, depending on where you are in your journey.

There are a few skill sets you need for features that would be tough to practice in short scripts.

One is character arc. You’d be able to experiment with smaller changes or lessons that can fit in a shorter story, but the ability to arc a character over a feature-length story is something you probably have to write feature scripts to really get a handle on.

Also, feature-length story structure and pacing. Sure – writing shorts would give you practice with setup, escalation, and resolution, and would likely help you grasp the basics of three acts in that way. But features have a particular pacing and sense of momentum that relates to the structure of it that you also probably have to write feature-length scripts to really master.

You might be considering writing short scripts for reasons other than practicing your craft.

If you want a different type of quick win, that of actually getting something into production, then a short script is a good option.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that if a short film gets noticed – whether that’s in festivals or via an organic viral-type of situation – the attention is usually enjoyed by the director rather than the writer. So if you’re a writer-director, that might be perfect. If you’re a writer only, or a writer-only on this specific project, it might not do as much for you as you’d like, no matter how well it turns out.

A shorter way to reach your goal?

All in all, there are probably more advantages than drawbacks to consider in this debate. Writing is writing is writing, and it’s all going to help you grow in some way.

So yes – write shorts as practice to help you master some of those skill sets you’ll need when writing your feature scripts.

Write short scripts especially if it gets you excited and motivated to write. That’s always a good thing.

Just keep in mind that if your ultimate goal is to write feature-length scripts, there’s no substitute for writing feature-length scripts. Practice, practice, practice in any form that makes sense to you, but eventually you’ll want to make your way back to writing full features to bring all of your skill sets together and have the experience of writing a full feature, as that is its own skill set too.


Start with my 3-part email series: "The 3 Essential, Fundamental, Don't-Mess-These-Up Screenwriting Rules." After that, you'll get a weekly dose of pro screenwriting tips and industry insights that'll help you get an edge over the competition.