Wednesday, January 11, 2012

From Screenplay to Short Story

by Linda Hayes

Mostly, if not always, people transcribe their story, short or long, into a screenplay. Just once in a while it’s good to go the other way; from screenplay to short story. As this transition is rare, here are some tips about how you could carry out this task, although it should be noted that most writers have their own way of planning and writing.

It is not just a matter of looking at the methods of adapting a story to screenplay and performing it all backwards. There are specific tasks to look at before you can even consider the beginning.

The rules and the size of the task

With a full screenplay, you are probably writing between 90 and 110 pages in screenplay format, with each page equaling about one minute of screen time. This means you have definite headings to work with:

• scene heading – the location; inside or outside shot and the time of day setting the scene

• action – what’s actually happening when the story moves along

• character – who is going to speak

• parenthetical – information about an immediate action or a direction for the actor

• dialogue – the character’s speech

• transitions – how one scene moves to another

The rules of the short story

You will look at the length of your short story to give you a guide to what you can leave in and what you should leave out of the screenplay. If your target is twenty pages, you won’t just be shaving 70-90 pages from the screenplay, but rather looking at the screenplay’s major elements and deciding which parts of the story are to remain.

It might be that you choose to make your short story cover only part of the screenplay. That way you might be exchanging 40 pages for a new 20 page version. That might make the cutting down and cutting out an easier task.

If you are entering a short story competition or have been asked to write the story for a specific purpose, there will be some rules attached. You'll need to consider engraving certain themes into your pristine ideas. This will dictate the length of your project and might offer extra information which may tell you that no dialogue is allowed. If your story is to be part of a selection of stories for print, there will be an overall feel to the book you will need to adhere to.

Story guidelines

Just like your screenplay, the opening scene must have an immediate impact. You will need to show your protagonist quickly along with your antagonist and other major players. You won’t have long to grab your reader’s interest.

You will need to know how you are going to end your story. Will it have the same ending as the screenplay or, as a short story, do you require a different ending? Once you know your ending you will be able to plan out the middle section, the 14-16 pages which will take you through more and more intense unexpected consequences leading up to the dramatic ending.

You can use dialogue directly from your screenplay - if you wrote it - but you’ll need to have permission to change or use the dialogue if you have been asked by the writer to present the short story.

The action scenes in the screenplay are always in the present tense. In your short story you will have options of using all the normal tenses available to fiction. From third person to first person, you may be taking away the current tense and replacing the action with either the past tense or perhaps the story telling tense from a personal point of view.

The action scenes from the screenplay need to be given more descriptive detail to make a story work well. In a screenplay they are set to their bare minimum to give an indication of what is happening. In your story they will be the backbone of your presentation to take your reader on an adventure.


If you are the type of screenplay writer that writes a treatment of your script, you will already have a shortened version of your screenplay which could help with your short story adaptation. Treatments are used to present a short version of the whole screenplay so a producer or reader for a studio can get a feel of the script in short-form and only ask to see the full 90-110 pages if it matches their requirements.

While treatments can be from one page to 30 pages long, they are usually closer to a synopsis version of around 5 pages. This gives you the task of expanding the five pages up to twenty for your short story. Let the writing begin.

Linda Hayes is a stage-trained wordsmith and passionate thespian. She has recently turned her attention from acting to short stories, and hopes to get published this year.

No comments: