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Why Short Stories Are Better Than Pitches

May 17, 2024
6 min read time

If there’s one thing I know about screenwriters, they love the process of pitching their movie ideas to industry professionals.

Just kidding. I’ve never met a screenwriter who loves a pitch meeting, even if it’s over Zoom. Most writers are introverts by nature and have to make yourself presentable, sitting in front of studio execs with a bottle of water and making your idea sound like the best idea for a movie ever—and explain why it’s worth putting millions of dollars into the production—all in 15 minutes, is possibly the most nerve-racking thing you will ever have to do.

Yes, pitching gets easier the more you do it, but what if I told you there was another option? These days, there’s an increasingly popular alternative for screenwriters, and that is writing a short story. While pitches have their place, short stories offer an advantage in the marketplace by showcasing the writer’s ability to tell an exciting story in a short format. 

Here are five reasons why you may want to write a short story instead of creating a pitch as a way to get your movie idea the green light.

Read More: How to Write a Short Story: 7 Elements to Always Remember

1. Short Stories Are On-Trend in Hollywood Right Now

Hollywood loves intellectual property (IP), especially if it comes with a built-in fan base. Typically, the industry turns to books, comics, and biographies to use as film fodder, but, now, with Reddit threads like r/ShortStory or r/NoSleep (for braver souls) that post short stories for free to an audience hungry for exciting, new short fiction, the short story has become the new, hot trend.

Like all trends, this one isn’t likely to last (remember writing spec scripts for current TV shows? I have a great spec of Six Feet Under if anyone’s interested), so consider giving it a try while short stories are in vogue.

The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) posing with his mask on in 'The Black Phone' (2022)

2. Focus on Character Development

Crafting dynamic, three-dimensional, relatable characters is essential for any successful screenplay. A short story offers the writer an opportunity to flesh out characters in ways that may not be feasible within the confines of a pitch. 

By immersing readers in the inner thoughts, emotions, and motivations of a character, writers can create more nuanced and provocative personas that resonate with audiences.

Read More: 5 Steps for Developing Great Characters

3. Exploration of Theme

While pitches often focus on the most marketable aspect of your film idea (i.e. the romance), short stories allow writers to explore niche themes and concepts in greater depth.

Think about the movie Brokeback Mountain (2005), which was based on a short story of the same name. Sure, you could pitch a movie about two cowboys in love in a time when being gay was usually kept hush-hush, but all the subtleties of their forbidden romance might be difficult to convey. Putting the details of their relationship into a short story is likely a better way to communicate their nuanced and challenging relationship. 

If you want to tackle complex social issues, philosophical dilemmas, or intimate human dramas, short stories provide a way for writers to delve deeper into their stories.

Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) hugging each other in 'Brokeback Mountain' (2005); Why Short Stories Are Better Than Pitches

4. Experiment with Structure

A studio exec expects to hear the beginning, middle, and end of your movie in a pitch, which requires you to adhere to the tried-and-true three-act structure. However, a short story allows for greater flexibility in the storytelling, creating an opportunity to experiment with structure and format. 

Think about the film Memento (2000), which was based on the short story Memento Mori. Again, you could pitch a movie that’s told in reverse, but the experience of that specific type of storytelling is better communicated in a short story.

5. Showcasing Writing Skills

The concise nature of a short story encourages writers to develop tight, economical prose and make every word count. A screenplay should feel the same way, that no moment is wasted.

If the taught pacing and clever dialogue in your short story can impress a producer, they will have confidence your writing skills will transfer to the big screen.

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) standing on a shark in the ocean in 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'


While pitching ideas to studios and producers will always be part of Hollywood’s ecosystem, it’s exciting to know that writing short stories can also be a valuable tool in bringing your story to the marketplace. From experimenting with structure to digging into character-driven dramas, short stories offer opportunities for writers to hone their craft and attract industry attention. 

By embracing the art of short story writing, screenwriters can unlock new avenues for success in the competitive world of filmmaking.

Read More: Five Steps to Successful Pitching

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