• Charles Breach

Week 13 - Narrative Strategies and Story Adaptation

We started this week looking at the key principles to writing a short film. We were presented a set of rules to follow, that when used correctly, would produce a good shot film. The short film had to be:

  1. Simple

  2. Economical

  3. Memorable

'The best short films are often a single moment that is played out' (Stephanie Joalland of Raindance short film festival). I think out of most of the stuff we learnt about making a good short film, this quote hit the most. Where other quotes and concepts tell us what to do, this particular quote tells us how to do it, at least it does for me. I didn't really have an inkling for what I would be making a script for, except that it was going to be short, but now I understand the time frame, and actual story requirements. We don't have to make something with complex character back stories, or relationships, or an extensive narrative arc. Simply, we must can a singular moment, fortified by the 3 rules we were presented earlier, and play it out.

We watched a couple short films that demonstrated simple storytelling:



Each is drastically different, except for their main simple aspect. The first Changeover (dir. Mehdi Alibeygi, 2017), demonstrates a single moment. We don't have to consider just a single moment, it could be a single idea, played out in different moments, should the idea be flexible enough to repeat in different ways that wouldn't be repetitive, like the second video, Enough (2017, dir. Anna Mantzaris).

Although simplicity and economy sound pretty similar at first, and I'm sure if you were able to create a simple story, it would be inherently fairly economical, there are things you must consider to create the most bang for your content. A story could be descriptive, complex, but a short story doesn't have time for that. ‘See the writing of a short as an opportunity to become more aware of what each line you put down on paper implies and costs.’ (Stephanie Joalland) We need to be able to draw as much meaning as we can, from as little as possible. What is especially important about this project, is our medium, as animators, and how we can exploit this to carry out the requirements of economical storytelling. Animation isn't restricted by reality, and we can use this to create moments brimming with visual queues, to compact meaning into as little as possible, to convey as much as we can imagine within the confines of a simple short story. A single moment could be a vignette of something larger. We can choose to omit details, but in a fashion that the audience can infer these details through contextual or surrounding action, known as ellipsis. Like I previously said, a story could be descriptive, but the act figuring out a story without being spoon fed every little detail creates drama. ‘When this happens, the viewer becomes the screenwriter and you have become merely the supplier of stimuli’ (Mehring, 1990, p.42). More is less. The details we omit from a vignette can become details for a viewer to figure out about the larger world in which you make your short story.

How do you utilise all these to make a memorable short story? You give your story a good ending. A detail we covered while talking about economy is beginning your story 'in media res', starting the story 'in the middle of things'. There isn't time to introduce the world you have conjured. Instead, we must start as close to the end as possible, those details we have missed can, again, be inferred for the audience to figure out. The ending of a story is the last thing anyone sees of your film, and most likely the detail anyone remember's most vividly, and having a good ending is physically felt by the audience. Endings don't have to tie up everything you've presented, inferred or not. The ending can be open, leaving things up to the audience to figure out, to piece together through hints and suggestions a short story has provided.

We did some more creative writing exercises, specifically for creating and developing characters. We had to create a story based on images shown to us. We had to write the story in about a minute or two (I can't remember how long exactly), with the same concept in mind we talked about in the previous session 'In quickness is truth'.

The psychic rock:

'This rock... it speaks to me.' thought little Tim.

'No it doesn't'.

'What?' Said Tim aloud, to no reply.

'Weird.' thought Tim.

'That's very rude.' Tim heard. There was something weird about the voice, it didn't seem to come from anywhere, it didn't seem he was actually hearing it, rather... feeling, and knowing it.


'Excuse me, child, I noticed you've been staring at me through this window for quite some time now, might I enquire as to what makes you think I'm so interesting?'

'Why, Sir, you see, my hands are glued to this hook, and I cannot fit the rest of my body through this window.'

The gentleman blinked, confused.

'I did not want to call out to you in fear it may scare you off, and I need someone to assist me in removing my hand from this hook. My parents aren't presently home, so I cannot call on them for aid, and you look to be the most reasonable person around. I apologise for the intrigue, but you must understand?'

Itchy chins:

'My chin.' Spluttered Mr Shaw.

'Your chin?' asked the waiter, filling Mr Shaw's wine.

'My cchinn.' Said Mr Shaw. 'The second one.'

'What about it, Mr Shaw?'

'Ccould you do me a favor, and scratch it?' Mr Shaw's tongue too big to enunciate properly.

For the next exercise, we had to write a story based around a picture, but had to write from right to left, as opposed to the usual English left to right, which would create a similar effect to writing quickly, drawing our attention away from what we wanted to write, and instead focusing on just getting something onto the paper. I think for this particular exercise I was more confused than anything, because I wasn't sure what the picture was, and initially thought it depicted a lady hugging a wheel of cheese, but actually showed a lady making something out of clay on top of a wheel that looked, in my opinion, very similar to cheese. Regardless, this exercise, similarly to the previous exercises, prevented me from thinking about what I was writing, and made me talk about the first thing that came to my mind. I haven't typed the story up right to left, but the original was written in this way.

That wasn't cheese but I thought it was:

'Mmmmmm.' Her mouth watered at the sight. A man, intrigued by the noise, looked up from the cash machine behind the counter.

'Mmmmmmmm.' She sounded again.


'AH, sorry... it's just... that...'


'That CHEESE!'

Our final exercise had to be dialogue between two characters from the image shown.

'Give it back!'

'GiVe It BaCk'

'I don't sound like that!'

'I dOn'T sOuNd LikE tHaT'

'I'll tell Mum if you don't give it back!'

'But it has my name on it.'

'It does NOT have- don't put it in your mouth!'

'DoN't PuT iT iN yOuR mOuTh'

I thought this final passage would have been quite humorous with a Jekyll and Hyde twist. Perhaps it is a single character arguing with them self, split by two minds or personalities, a duality of bad and good, but in a very innocent form.

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