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10 Tips to Make Your Short Script Competition-Ready

10 Tips to Make Your Short Script Competition-Ready

Whoop whoop! You’ve finished writing your short screenplay. You’re excited. We’re excited. And we can’t wait to read it – but before you hit that big ol’ ‘Submit’ button; stop, step back, and take a breather. Let’s quickly make sure that your already awesome script really is in winning condition. It’s stiff competition out there, but thankfully we’re here to share our insider knowledge with 10 hot tips on how to give your script the edge and more importantly, impress our hungry team of script readers.

Hook: Grabbing the reader on page-one is a must have and there are several ways to do this, so don’t think that you always have to leap straight into action, a shock moment, or an explosive event (although those things work great too!). A well-crafted hook can also be a thought-provoking question, a compelling character introduction, or vivid description that immerses the reader into the story world straight away. Honestly, engaging and competent writing can be just as compelling as unique world-building, intriguing characters, and a high-concept plot, but if you can combine them all, you’re putting yourself ahead of the curve.

Minimize Setup: A fairly common issue with short scripts is that the writer has started the story far too soon, meaning that there’s too much clunky setup, unnecessary backstory, or time-consuming world-building that slows the pace. The reader (and the audience) want to get to the good stuff quickly, so double-check that you’re only delivering absolutely necessary info in those all-important first few pages. If a reveal can wait, cutting it could help your story hit the ground running as well as create a more regarding revelation later.

Make every line count: If something isn’t advancing the plot, giving essential exposition, expressing character, or is highly entertaining/engaging, there’s every chance it can be cut. This includes everything on the page from scene headings, description, to dialogue. Think, “If it was cut, would the plot change at all?”. Does every word add something substantial or might they just be filling up space on the page? Be ruthless and your short script will become leaner and more effective in the process.

Shorter is better: If a contest reader has access to submission page-counts, which do you think they’ll choose to read first; a 5-page or a 45-page script? Reader fatigue is real, so ensure your script gets read first by keeping the page count as low as possible. The same applies to film festivals. Why have one 45-min short in your program when you can have nine 5-min films instead? But it’s not just about suiting others here. Being able to condense story is a skill that will impress potential collaborators, producers, and studios, so it’s one well worth practicing.

Cut the fluff: If you can say the same thing using fewer words, it often (not always) leads to a more efficient script that packs a better punch. Time is money, so script readers don’t want to spend time trawling through extra words that aren’t needed, which also slows the pace of the story too. Avoid stating the obvious, carefully choose adverbs to be evocative, don’t repeat information we already know (unless it’s to hammer home a point), and avoid repetitive word use at the same time too. Increase the readability of your script and a reader will thank you.

Show, don’t tell: In the limited medium that is short films, being able to convey as much information as possible in as little time as possible is another valuable skill to have. A picture paints a thousand words, right, so scan your script looking for instances where a reaction, an action, or even a silence could be used to communicate the meaning of a line instead. Also learn to embrace subtext. Giving deeper meaning to your dialogue adds additional layers without extending the run time, so think about what are your characters really saying, without actually out-right saying it?

Foreshadow: Readers absolutely love setups and payoffs. They’re like mini rewards for paying attention. Look at every line of dialogue, every prop, and every action in your script then search for ways to pay them off later on in the story. This helps to create a tight, concise, and creative script. If an element can’t be used as a setup, it could be a potential cut. Remember, ‘Make every line count’? This is where you make sure every other element in your story works too.

Budget Check: Short films are primarily used as calling cards for up-and-coming writers and directors and that often means working on a limited budget. Even if you have an effect-heavy, action-packed, world-touring story, look for ways to trim back on the production costs wherever you can – without compromising on story, of course! This could be condensing or re-using locations and characters, cutting lines from extras, replacing child or animal actors, or setting the story in the present instead of a period era, etc. Writing to a budget isn’t a restriction, it can actually help you find inventive solutions, so get creative.

End with a bang: When it comes to shorts, last impressions count and endings really need to create a long-lasting impact. Ironically, the unexpected end twist has now become an expectation in itself, but a twist reveal isn’t the only way to ensure your script is memorable. A powerful emotional beat that resonates, posing an open-ended question that creates a talking point, or even an end reveal that makes the viewer re-evaluate everything that’s already gone before are all proven techniques. The main objective is not having a memorable ending for all the wrong reasons!

Polish, polish, and more polish: If your script is going to compete (and yes, repped writers also enter script contests), the formatting needs to be on point, the prose needs to be engaging and evocative, and the writing needs to be lean. If in doubt, get a fresh pair of eyes on your script. Getting free feedback from peers is a lot easier with a short script, but don’t dismiss using a coverage service completely because of the short length. A pro will be able to highlight any issues that may have gone under the radar. There’s a higher level of competition in short scripts, which in general are much more polished that their feature or tv pilot counterparts, so make sure there are no minor errors holding your script back. Script readers don’t need too many excuses to pass on a script, so don’t give them any!

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 -

Looking forward to reading your work.

Best of luck!

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