Story Shorthand

screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

Fiona Akerman

I used to write slowly. As a novelist, I would meander, let myself go, simmer, get stopped up, go around in circles, find my way again and again. I still do that, I just do it very fast now.

If you’re on a deadline, but want to write a rich story fast, here’s a shorthand:

Every character gets an arc that hits at least three beats:

  • We meet them when they’re low — or don’t know yet they’re about to take a big fall.
  • They struggle with a new challenge.
  • They change as a result.

Show each of these beats in a scene or scenes consisting of:

  • a visual image
  • an emotion
  • a question in the mind of the audience — what comes next?

Weave these scenes together like a building conversation: each scene interviews the next, asking a more insistent question that’s only partially answered by the next, which answers a question with its own question in turn. Building in speed and intensity.

Every moment in your story is a great moment — if it’s not, lose it.

If you’re on a tight deadline, you can use this shorthand to develop a pretty tight story. Once you’ve got the story down, you canĀ get profound.

  • Story shorthand:

  • juliebush

    I would like to add this:

    If you’re not on a deadline, put yourself on one. A crazy, insanely tight deadline that you have to race to meet. Whatever doesn’t make it in under that wire, you didn’t need.

    And you can always go back and add it in the rewrite.

  • Thought-provoking, and a little intimidating for me. RT @julie_bush Story Shorthand

  • AVB

    Julie, fabulous advice! Concise and useful — and a cool photo to accompany it!

  • New Blog Post: Story Shorthand

  • Andrea

    My favorite is your last sentence, and to this I can relate. Slash, burn, leave fertile ground behind. BEGIN AGAIN.

    • juliebush

      Well put A. I’ve got a lot to say in response to your email too — which is why I haven’t responded. That’s the thing when you’re a writer — you spend all day writing, and then you do your blog, and then you want to write exhaustive emails in response to your wonderful friends — and suddenly it’s next January, and you’re like “uh, what?”
      But trust me–when I do respond — you’re going to be BLOWN THE FUCK AWAY.

  • Robin Evans

    Julie — your blog just keeps getting better. Damn. I love meandering but I sometimes lose the plot (literally) these points are being posted up in my office now.

    • juliebush

      Thank you for the very kind feedback. I would have responded sooner but I’ve been very busy (which is a good thing — no one needs to have too much time to spend on their blog.) I hope you are very well.

  • this officially goes up over my computer starting now RT @julie_bush Story Shorthand

  • Great points! Story Shorthand from @julie_bush