Novices often make the mistake of trying to write a full-length screenplay, which is like learning to walk by trying to run a marathon. You can do it but it’s far simpler to build up your stamina by starting with short scripts instead.
A short script essentially represents a single scene that tells a complete story but ends with a cliffhanger to hold attention until the next scene. One of the best sources of short films is Omeleto, available on YouTube.
Omeleto curates the best short films from various directors. Although the quality varies, most short films are worth studying for how the short film can tell a compelling story with minimal special effects, stunts, and CGI. If you can tell an interesting story in an ordinary setting, you can tell an interesting story with special effects, stunts, and CGI as well.
The real way to tell an interesting story is to give a hero a character flaw and then force that hero to face that character flaw over and over. In the short film, “Long Branch,” a woman just wants a one night stand with a guy because she’s been hurt by her ex-boyfriend so she doesn’t want an emotional commitment.
Unfortunately for this woman, the guy she picked for the one night stand lives two hours away and there are other people in her apartment so she can’t bring the guy there. That means the woman must now ride a train far away while trying not to get to know the guy so she can remain unemotionally detached.
After the long train ride, the woman then needs to ride a bus. Then finally she must ride a bicycle to the guy’s home. Even then, the guy lives with his aunt and uncle so they have to be quiet. Notice how the train, bus, and bicycle ride forces the woman to stay with the guy for as long as possible without letting her have sex.
Finally when the woman and man get in bed together, the long trip has exhausted them so they no longer want to have sex. But the woman’s still stuck two hours from home with a guy she never wanted to get to know beyond having a superficial one night stand.
The main point is that every scene must challenge your hero’s weakness and force them to constantly confront that weakness. You don’t want conflict just for the sake of conflict or else you could have zombies, super villains, terrorists, or rabid dogs suddenly appear to cause trouble for the hero.
All conflict in every scene must challenge the hero’s character flaw. Watch “Long Branch” short film to see how the setting of traveling a long way with a guy forces the woman to deal with her desire to avoid emotional commitment.
When you learn that the setting of every scene should work against your hero, you’ll start writing more compelling scenes, and that will just translate into writing better screenplays.