Many of us want to make big, important things. You might be trying to figure how to get started on your next project. You might want to outline your epic, start world building your next saga but the fastest way to get to making big and important things is to make small things. I’ve written before about how to take your big idea and make a small version of it. Part of that process is choosing what kind of short to make. I’m not an expert but this idea has helped me. It’s help me wrap my head around story, and especially break down my big ideas into smaller more manageable ones.
There are two ways your can look at short stories. Broad and Narrow. The Broad story is a story that takes a very general view of the entire story you want to tell. I think a great example of this in animation is The Reward:
“Driven by greed, two young boys venture out on an epic treasure hunt across the world, but to reach their goal they will need to conquer greater dangers than flesh-eating totem-poles and transvestite angels.” IMBD This short is essentially a montage of the journey the characters take. It gets across this big picture epic feeling. It’s funny, and action packed but you don’t that deep with any themes or characters, and that’s okay. I think the point of it is to be fun and exciting.
Now if you wanted to go more narrow maybe the short Borrowed Time:
The description from IMDB, “A weathered sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.”IMDB It’s deep, it’s harrowing, and it’s emotional. It’s also contained, it focuses on the main character, his memories. We don’t know how the characters met, we don’t know how the chase started but again that’s not the point. The point is to get across a specific emotion, and it does that beautifully.
In the system called Dramatica, this concept is called slicing and dicing. The way that it works is that every story has 4 parts. An Overall Story, Main Character Arc, Impact Character Arc* and a Relationship Story**. To slice is to take a little thin piece from every part of the story, getting every layer of a cake in one slice. This kind of story will feel big, but sort of general. Dicing takes a one piece, focusing on one section, just scraping off the all icing and only eating the sponge. This kind of story will be deep and specific, but most of the broader context will be omitted from this narrative.
What’s useful about this approach is that you can take parts of your narrative and split them into short stories. You don’t have to be bogged down by your big ambitious story, you can start small. You can tell as big or as contained of a story as you want and begin the learning process.
*Impact Character is a secondary character that the main character comes into contact with. Think of all your favourite films/stories there’s usually an important secondary character.
**Relationship Story is a story about the relationship between the Main Character and Impact Character. It’s the ‘heart’ of the film. Story of how they grow to closer or fall apart.