A short film is a great place to begin for any up and coming filmmaker. With some creativity and a great storyline you can make something incredible with little resources.
A common problem in filmmaking occurs when creators focus on visual elements and cinematography without dialing in a good story . This happens a lot. Especially with short films.
But let’s be honest ….writing a good story is hard to do!
If this describes you , rest assured you’re not alone. It’s easy to get wrapped up in cinematography.
But the story and execution of a solid narrative is what keeps the audience watching.
In this article we will discuss our favorite short film ideas. Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your short or just learning the process, commonly used storylines may provide the spark of inspiration you need .
Below is a list of topics to stir up those brilliant ideas. Trust me… its in there …..( your mind that is).
Storytelling is by far the most important element in creating any film. If you’re stuck in your writing process, coming back to these principles can help your ideas begin to flow. It’s important to understand some basics about stories in order to craft one of your own. For a deeper dive on how to write a short film see our article here.
In this section we will briefly bullet point some of the important ingredients to what a story needs. This will help us look at common storylines and what makes them successful.
There are 4 elements to figure out when writing a good story: Plot , Structure , Characters, Problem and Solution.
- PLOT : Every good story begins with a basic plot. You should be able to describe your plot in 2-5 sentences. It’s a basic idea of what the story is about. Further in this article we will go over 7 common plots that have been used thousands of times.
- STORY STRUCTURE: All great stories follow a structure. It helps the audience follow the narrative. When we break the components of a story into their simplest form we can see that many stories have this in common. This is great news for anyone trying to write a story of their own. We can follow these basic guidelines to begin. By creating a simple timeline of events. To keep it simple well focus on 3 events : Beginning , Event, End.
- BEGINNING : Setting the stage for EVENT in future
- EVENT : Something dramatic happens , the more LIFE AND DEATH the better the climax.
- END : A transformation of some kind has taken place.
- CHARACTERS: Good stories need interesting characters. Usually a main character has an INTERNAL CONFLICT that needs to be dealt with. This will create the tension needed to make to hold the audience to their seats. Supporting characters rub on the friction of the conflict.This usually leads up to the main event in the storyline, followed by a solution to the problem or transformation which serves as the end.
- MAIN CHARACTER : A main character can be a person, place or thing, it does not always have to be a person. However in every story the main character needs a to have some form of INTERNAL CONFLICT. The main character wants something. But there is something in the way. This conflict will help drive a story.
When creating a main character try to visualize them in depth. Invision the type of character they are. What’s wrong with them? How will they transform? How do you bring this character to life.
- SUPPORTING CHARACTERS : Supporting characters should create friction on the iNTERNAL CONFLICT of the main character. What do they provide to the main character resolution of their conflict?
- PROBLEM & SOLUTION: Every great story has some underlying problem and solution. The Main climax of the story can be when a solution is solved usually creating
COMMONLY USED STORYLINES
One really easy way to get new ideas is to mirror previously created storylines. This doesn’t mean just copying an entire story, but using the same format. Many of our favorite films are just spinoffs of the same story.
A great example of this is seen in a book by Christopher Booker : THE 7 BASIC POLTS.
In his book Chrostopher breaks down all stories to 7 simple plots. These can be great idea starters for your short film
The 7 plots are :
- RAGS TO RICHES Plot :
We all love a good rags to riches story. When you think of most rags to riches stories they all have some striking similarities. In these stories , the main character is a moral and honest person dealt a bad hand in life despite having great talents. Your supporting characters usually help the main character to achieve their dream . Which makes them rich in some form.The audience connects with this because deep down we all have talents that have yet to shine for the world to see. You want to see the main character win. A great example is In search of happiness with will smith.
- THE QUEST Plot :
The classic “in search of our treasure with a group of friends” plot . Most of these stories revolve around one Hero who must pass many tests in search of a treasure. Indiana Jones pops into my brain but there’s thousands of these stories.A quest story can be told many ways. A story of an entrepreneur starting a business and eventually getting “the treasure” could be THE QUEST plot.
- VOYAGE AND RETURN Plot:
There is a good storyline for “normal” main character who are placed in new and strange situations. The great part of these stories is that the main character must do things out of his comfort zone. Goal of Hero is to get on the “voyage” to return home.
This plot is not the laughing type comedy but more like a Shakespearean comedy , where two groups of people are against each other. Romeo and Juliet is an example of this plot. Other common examples include a movie where nothing seems to be going good for the main character , until an event that changes it all.
- TRAGEDY Plot :
Difficult times are a part of life. Many of us have lived through scary scenarios or can imagine what they might be like. Movies based around a tragedy usually will teach us a lesson about life. There are many positive messages we can extract from stories of tragedy.
- REBIRTH Plot :
The rebirth plot is where the main character learns a valuable lesson thru events in a story that changes them forever.
- OVERCOMING THE MONSTER Plot (aka good vs evil)
In this type of plot the hero must defeat the monster. “A monster” can take many forms .There are movies where the monster is an addition, a debt, an illness, ghost , the list goes on. The main idea is overcoming the monster and saving everyone from it.
MIX PLOT WITH SHORT MOVIE GENRE
A creative way to generate a beginning point for your short film is to mix the plot with the genre type. You can pick a genre for your story, then add one of the 7 common plots.
“A Horror Movie with a main plot of overcoming the monster” .
“A Western with a main plot of a rags to riches”
“A documentary with the main plot of THE QUEST”
Below are a list of genres to help you mix and match ideas.
POPULAR SHORT FILM GENRES:
- SCI FI
- MUSIC VIDEO
- PERIOD FIL OR HISTORICAL
HYBRID GENRES: You can mix two genres together to get some great ideas. Romantic comedies are a great example of two genres becoming one new idea.
Ever seen Cowboys & ALiens?
It didn’t get the best reviews however it was daring to mix sci fi and western. To me this illustrates creative mixing of hybrid genres. Quentin tarrintino films are another great reference of those who have hybrid genres in their film.
If you feel stuck in your quest to write a short film , follow these guidelines to get your imagination flowing. Following storytelling principles & Christopher Booker’s 7 plots can be all the spark you need to write an amazing short film.