Saturday, April 16, 2011

The "Aha!" Moment

I’ve been thinking a lot about short stories and short films and their structure.
They are so much harder to write than novels. You have such a short time to introduce characters and make them compelling, set up a plot of some kind, and tie it up with a resonant punch line.
I think that’s the key. It all has to build towards a powerful “punch line” of some kind. It doesn’t have to be a joke, it just has to make the audience experience an “Oh!” or “Aha!” moment.
An example: In Pixar’s awesome short film “Geri’s Game”, an old man is sitting in a park playing an intense game of chess with his alter ego. That introduces an interesting character and a humorous plot… but it all becomes memorable when the game is won- and the object of the duel is revealed. That’s the “aha!” moment.
Another example, from a short film titled “INSiDE.” 
(This paragraph contains spoilers). A man suffering from multiple personality disorder is being questioned by his doctor, who is trying to get him to claim his true name again. It builds to a noisy climax, and he finally says his name. But then the another doctor enters, and we learn the surprising truth: The first doctor was one of his figments all along. “Aha!”
The "Aha!" moment ties everything together, and makes the short story/film worth remembering. It's usually a twist on the expected, it carries some emotive punch, and it has to take place in a short amount of time (duh).
I’m currently brainstorming for a short film my family is going to make this summer. Already we’re leaning toward the epic side of things— possibly two airships, a sky pirate attack, a lost city of treasure, a mysterious device… and that’s enough fodder for an entire full-length novel! As the official scriptwriter, I’m trying to find a way to condense that into a 10-15 minute film steeped in the epic steampunk adventure feel, yet keep it short, simple, and powerful. How do I come up with that perfect “Aha!” moment? 
First, I think I have to figure out the theme or "tone" of the story (is it romantic? Wry? Mysterious? Heart-warming? Humorous? Stark?). Once we have that root theme in place, we can decide what plot elements accord with that theme, and then find a way to twist the expected resolution.
Any thoughts? I'd appreciate input, because I'm still pretty baffled by writing shorts. Anyone have any questions (or advice!) about writing short films and stories?
One last random musing: Short films are often most powerful when the story is told without a scrap of dialogue.


Galadriel said...

Sorry, I don't have any suggestions, but you're right about lack of dialouge in short films.

DTH Rocket said...

After watching that short film my reaction was "Aha! ... huh?"

Seth Skogerboe said...

INSiDE needs to be a full length movie. Because I need to see the rest. :-0 WOW.