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10 Elements of the Winning Short Script


  • Be Original: This is fundamentally the most important element to a winning short script. There are hundreds and thousands of short scripts out there and while no two scripts are the same, there are certainly trends and common topics that do the rounds each year. While there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by current events, make sure to put your own unique stamp on your script in order to make it stand out.


  • Take Risks: Short scripts aren’t just a great way to quickly learn the craft of screenwriting, they’re also your opportunity to experiment and get creative. Tackle bold topics, use unconventional narratives, get immersive, be taboo, visually excite – all of the things that perhaps become limited with bigger-budgeted feature films. A winning short script also wants to go on to become a winning short film, and this is one way to do that.


  • Emotionally Engage: This doesn’t just apply to shorts; it should apply to everything you write. Hook the reader on an emotional level and they’ll champion your script, giving it a greater chance of advancing through a contest. There are numerous ways to do this, including developing universal themes, characters, and plots, but evocative writing that hits the reader in the feels can be just as powerful.


  • Excite: A competently-written script isn’t enough to win if the story is boring, predictable, or conventional. Mastering the craft of screenwriting is only half the battle. You also need to be able to inspire, entertain, shock, surprise, and all the rest of it too. Avoid wooden stage directions and instead use carefully chosen evocative language that keeps the reader hooked and turning the page.


  • Write Lean: Get to the point quickly. As much as you want to believe that script readers are going to savor every word on the page, they’ll be trying to get through as many reads in a day as possible. Make their lives easier by cutting out any filler words, unnecessary repetition, needless details, scenes, or characters that slow the reading time as well as the pace of the story being told. A reader will thank you for it.


  • Foreshadow: Readers (and audiences) love setups and payoffs, which structurally enhance a script in the process as it means that nothing is wasted. If a line of dialogue, an action, a behavior, or a prop doesn’t get paid off later in the story, it begs the question whether it was really needed in the first place. Go through your script to ensure every element is essential, which also helps keep the writing lean too.


  • End Strong: Great shorts don’t just have a solid conclusion, they’re highly memorable too, meaning that ending on a bang is a must have. This could be an unexpected twist, a cliffhanger, a big talking point, or a complete reversal that makes the audience question everything they’ve just seen, compelling them to watch again. A weak beginning can very often be forgiven if the ending is superb.


  • Be Budget Aware: If a contest offers prize money towards producing the winning film, your script better be able to be shot, filmed, and edited within that budget. That may mean cutting back on the number of characters, external locations, action sequences, or SFX. If a script is going to be ultra-difficult to shoot, it probably won’t win, so having some knowledge of film production could help here.


  • Be visual: Why take five seconds to speak a line of dialogue when a two second reaction shot could tell us the same thing? We’re not just talking ‘show, don’t tell’ here. Look for opportunities to make your script more cinematic, even if it’s a low budget piece. Imagine your movie on the big screen, what powerful images, atmospheric moments, and dynamic movements can you use to wow them with?


  • Perfect Formatting: This alone won’t win you any contest, but if there’s one thing that script reader’s hate, it’s writers who haven’t bothered to learn the basics. Contests don’t want to embarrass themselves by sending amateurly-written scripts out to their roster of industry professionals. It’s not a good look. With rarely any time for further development, make sure your script is in green-lit condition before submitting.


  • Have a clear theme or message: Experimental shorts (aka art house films) without a clear narrative may look stunning on the big screen, but they don’t tend to make great scripts to read. Shorts with a strong message or compelling theme that resonates, on the other hand, are more likely to connect with the reader. Do this by threading the theme through each scene rather than tagging it on at the end.



Don’t worry if your script doesn’t check off everything in this short list. There’s still some time to make changes…. The FINAL Deadline for our Short Screenplay Competition is October 31st! To get $10,000 Cash Grant for your Short Script you can submit it here - https://writers.coverfly.com/competitions/view/outstanding-screenplays-shorts


Looking forward to reading your work.


Best of luck




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Eva Anna
Eva Anna
03 de jan.

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