A big screenplay is nothing more than a single story told through multiple stories. You could start by writing full-length screenplays, but that’s like learning to run by entering a marathon. An easier way is to start with short screenplays, which is like entering short races and training with short runs until you build up your endurance and stamina.
Look at any good movie and you’ll notice that it always consists of mini-stories that work together to create a big story. In “Terminator 2,” the first mini-story is which Terminator will find John Connor first. The second mini-story is who will find Sarah Connor first?
The third mini-story is whether Sarah Connor can change history by destroying the Cyberdyne Corporation. The fourth mini-story is whether the evil Terminator can succeed in killing John Connor.
A good movie seems to flow as a single story, but if you look carefully, it’s really made up of several mini-stories. If you fail to write intriguing mini-stories, your entire overall story will suffer. Therefore, the key to building a feature-length screenplay is to build it as mini-stories. One way to practice creating mini-stories is to practice writing short screenplays.
A short screenplay can be of any length, but typically consists of a handful of pages and focuses on a single event. For example, you might create a short screenplay showing what happens when a couple on a blind date meet for the first time.
A mini-story contains the exact same elements of a full-length screenplay. You have to introduce the hero, the hero’s goal, and the obstacles. Then you have to have the hero struggling to achieve the goal and failing or succeeding. Along the way, you have to write an interesting screenplay.
Think of writing short screenplays as practice runs, like training for a marathon. A short screenplay needs to have its own climactic ending too. The more you get used to creating mini-stories as short screenplays, the more likely you’ll be able to write mini-stories that make up a full-length screenplay.
Short screenplays are like short stories compared to a novel. While a novel, like a full-length screenplay, can tell a big story with subplots, a short screenplay, like a short story, generally focuses on a single incident.
The skills you learn writing short screenplays will build up your endurance and skill while giving you confidence that you can write and complete a screenplay. The more confidence you have in yourself and the greater your skill in writing, the better your chances of success.
Think of short screenplays as a stepping stone to writing a full-length screenplay. You would never run a marathon without training first, so short screenplays give you that immediate training to sharpen your skill before you tackle the marathon of writing a two hour screenplay.