Short stories have long been used as excellent source material for creating screenplays. Just think how many classic films started their lives as short stories: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to name a few.
If you would like to write a screenplay for a film, a short story could well provide you with the material you need to get started. But how should you go from short story to screenplay? Here are four simple steps to follow.
- Choose Your Short Story
Perhaps the hardest part of all is choosing the short story in the first place. There are many out there to choose from, but the simple fact is that many will not make good films. You therefore need to read a lot of short stories until you find one that you think will work as a film.
How can you tell which short stories will make good films? You need to find one that has good characters who you care about and who have depth, which could indicate something that you can develop further. Stories with long monologues tend not to work well, unless you intend on making a specific type of film, called Film Noir, which is generally considered a “dark” type of film using low-key lighting. While dialog does not always move the film forward, these types of films are conducive to monologues due to the unique feel of the film.
Finally, look at the plot. Are there things that can be added to the plot, areas where you can fill in more information that the viewer would want to know but that were not included in the original story? Keep these things in mind as you read through short stories until you find something that stands out to you.
- Make Some Changes
You don’t have to stay loyal to the short story or please the author in any way. Indeed, many of the best book-to-film adaptations change the stories dramatically, and this is especially true when it comes to a short story because there will often simply not be enough material to convert directly into a screenplay. On the other hand, not sticking to the story may earn you a firm scolding from fans – especially if the story is a cult classic.
As you read through the short story, try to think about what is lacking from it, either in terms of events or characters. Would you have done something differently? Would you have changed the ending? Was one character not quite right? You can always change the story to make a good film, so don’t be afraid to do so.
- Add Elements
You can even go so far as to add completely new elements to the plot if you feel that the film needs them. You could add in a new character, a plot twist, or anything else that adds to the film. However, you need to make sure that anything you add does not come across as contrived and instead comes across as natural.
- Create a Storyboard
It is a good idea to take out the main events from the story and convert them into scenes. They don’t have to follow the exact course of the story, and you can add some in and take some away as you wish.
This is a good opportunity to take some of the events in the story that cannot be visualized, and to change them into visual scenes. For example, how can you convert a long section of internal monologue into a scene? Once you manage to create a storyboard, you will be very close to creating your screenplay.
Mastering the art of editing is key. Everything you do in the film must be cinematic. Dialog should be “tight,” and the audience cannot be left staring at a ‘talking head’. There also needs to be a sense of “action” – not in the way an action movie moves quickly, but rather in the sense that the story is constantly being pushed forward. This keeps the audience entertained and interested.
Make Sure Your Screenplay Is Compelling
Whatever steps you take to convert a short story into a screenplay, don’t lose sight of the basics. Your screenplay still needs to have conflict, pace, and good characters to make it a success. Get some advice by watching videos that focus on screenplay techniques, including interviews with the experts, and download them using something like http://youtubedownload.altervista.org/ so that you can study them in your own time. Remember to respect IP when using downloaded content.
You should also consider seeking out and interviewing screenplay writers. If you’re not very experienced at this, a professional writer can help cut your learning curve.
Develop Your Screenplay Today
Probably one of the most significant barriers to writing a screenplay is the “avoidance factor.” It’s scary to do a bunch of research knowing that you may potentially come up empty-handed for ideas, to alter the story and risk putting off readers that come to watch the film, and to actually put forth the effort knowing that your concept may never make it to the big screen.
But, at the same time, procrastination will guarantee your failure. So, make sure you start right now. How? By setting action-oriented goals. Sure, it’s good to have the big, broad-based goals like “finish the project by May 23rd.” However, you need to set action-steps that tell you exactly what to do every day.
Block out time each day to write, for example. Set aside time for research. Also set aside time to relax and reflect on ideas. It’s these kinds of goals that will keep pushing you forward to get the job done.
Lisa Harold is a passionate storyteller. She enjoys helping others turn their ideas into engaging story formats.