It seems like every time I get on a website like Deadline, there's another article about how a writer has sold a short story for a ton of money to a studio.

Now, I'm in favor of any and all writers making money in Hollywood. And when I see a trend like this, I think it's worthwhile digging into for our readers.

It seems that in the ever-evolving IP landscape of Hollywood, short stories have emerged as the new hot commodity.

This trend marks a significant shift in the industry, traditionally dominated by novels, comic books, and biographies as sources for adaptation. And by spec screenplays.

The current surge in adapting short stories for the big screen and streaming platforms underscores their unique value in today's cinematic world.

So, today, we're going to focus on short stories and their place in Hollywood.

Why Are Short Stories Hot Right Now?

Tipi Hedron Short story the Birds

The Birds

Universal-International Pictures

Hollywood always wants to find intellectual property. It's an easy way to evaluate an idea on paper and decide whether or not there's a real market.

It can also be easier to get actors and directors to read short stories, attach, and to take a package to the studios.

This conciseness is a perfect fit for the film industry, which often grapples with the challenge of distilling complex narratives into a couple of hours of screen time.

Short stories provide a foundation for tight, focused storytelling without the need for extensive trimming that longer works require.

How Do You Sell a Short Story?

Minority Report (2002)


I honestly have no idea on this. I have never done that, so I can only give you answers I got from research, and to talking to a few people who have done it.

Up front, I can tell you a lot of the short stories selling for film and TV are just sent out by agents and managers like specs would be. And they function largely the same.

People look for a noisy logline, a good read, and a story they can see on the screen.

If you don't have an agent or manager, you should look into the following to market your idea:

  • Literary Magazines and Journals: These are traditional outlets for short stories. Look for magazines that publish work similar in style or theme to your story.
  • Online Publications: Many websites and online magazines publish short stories. Some cater to specific genres or themes.
  • Competitions and Anthologies: Short story competitions and calls for anthology submissions are another avenue to get your work published and noticed.
You should also be prepared for a lot of rejection. Much like spec screenplays, you have to hear a lot of "no's" to get one "yes'.

But the nice thing here is that you can self publish, and try to find traction for your work online. Maybe it goes viral.

So where can you self publish? Check out these resources:
  • Digital Platforms: Platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing, Wattpad, or Medium allow you to publish stories yourself and reach a wide audience.
  • Build a Readership: Self-publishing can be a way to build an audience, especially if you regularly produce new content.

Selling a short story can be challenging, but with persistence, research, and a dedication to honing your craft, it is entirely possible to find success in the literary world.

How Do You Write a Short Story?

Short story, hollywood


Paramount Pictures

Writing a short story involves crafting a concise, focused narrative that conveys a complete story within a limited word count.

Here's some tips that I plan on using as I embark on this endeavor. I think a lot of the preparation actually has a lot in common with screenwriting.

1. Start with an Idea

  • Find Inspiration: Ideas can come from anywhere—personal experiences, a fascinating character, a unique setting, or an intriguing concept.
  • Keep it Simple: Choose an idea that can be explored and resolved within a short format.

2. Define Your Theme

  • Identify the Core Message: Determine what you want to say with your story. The theme is the underlying message or insight you wish to convey.
  • Make it Universal: Good themes often resonate on a universal level, even in a very personal story.

3. Create Characters

  • Develop a Strong Protagonist: Your main character should be compelling and well-developed.
  • Limit the Number of Characters: Too many characters can complicate a short story. Focus on a few key characters who are essential to the narrative.

4. Outline the Plot

  • Structure: Most short stories follow a traditional narrative arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  • Keep the Plot Tight: Every scene and detail should contribute to the overall story. Avoid unnecessary subplots.

5. Set the Scene

  • Descriptive yet Concise: Establish the setting with enough detail to immerse the reader but keep descriptions brief and relevant to the action.
  • Use the Setting to Enhance the Story: The setting should complement the mood, theme, and characters' development.

6. Write a Strong Opening

  • Hook the Reader: Start with an engaging opening that piques the reader's interest.
  • Establish the Tone and Setting: Set the stage for your story right from the beginning.

7. Build Up to the Climax

  • Develop the Conflict: Introduce and escalate the central conflict or challenge facing the protagonist.
  • Pace Your Story: Balance action, dialogue, and description to maintain a steady pace.

8. Deliver a Satisfying Climax

  • Highlight the Main Conflict: The climax should be the turning point where the main tension or conflict reaches its peak.
  • Create Emotional Impact: The climax should evoke an emotional response, whether it's surprise, joy, sadness, or reflection.

9. Conclude Effectively

  • Resolve the Conflict: Provide a resolution that ties up the story’s main conflict.
  • Leave a Lasting Impression: The ending should leave the reader with something to think about, whether it's a final twist, a poignant moment, or a sense of closure.

10. Edit and Revise

  • Revise for Clarity and Flow: Make sure the story is coherent and that transitions are smooth.
  • Focus on Language and Style: Pay attention to word choice, sentence structure, and overall readability.
  • Seek Feedback: Get input from others and be open to constructive criticism.

11. Practice and Experiment

  • Write Regularly: Like any skill, writing improves with practice.
  • Experiment with Different Styles and Genres: This can help you find your unique voice and improve your storytelling abilities.

What Movies Were Based on Short Stories?

Sell short story hollywood

In the Bedroom


Numerous movies have been based on short stories, showcasing the adaptability and narrative power of this literary form. Some well-known films that originated from short stories include:

  1. Brokeback Mountain (2005) - Adapted from Annie Proulx's short story of the same name, this film tells the complex love story of two cowboys over several decades.
  2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) - Based on Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" from his collection "Different Seasons," this film is a powerful tale of hope and friendship in a prison.
  3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) - Inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, this film explores the life of a man who ages in reverse.
  4. Minority Report (2002) - Steven Spielberg's sci-fi thriller is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, exploring themes of free will and predestination.
  5. The Birds (1963) - Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this iconic horror-thriller was based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier. The film, known for its suspenseful and terrifying portrayal of unexplained violent bird attacks, differs in some aspects from the original story but retains its eerie and ominous tone.
  6. 1408 (2007) - This psychological horror film is an adaptation of Stephen King's short story of the same name. The story, from King's collection "Everything's Eventual," centers around a writer who spends a night in a haunted hotel room, challenging his skepticism about the supernatural.
  7. I, Robot (2004) - While the film takes considerable liberties, it is loosely inspired by Isaac Asimov's short story collection titled "I, Robot." The film explores themes of artificial intelligence and robotics, central to Asimov's works, although it presents a more action-oriented plot.
  8. The Fly (1986) - Directed by David Cronenberg, this science fiction horror film is loosely based on George Langelaan's short story "The Fly." The film is known for its groundbreaking special effects and a disturbing exploration of a scientist's transformation into a hybrid creature after an experiment goes horribly wrong.
  9. Arrival (2016) - This science fiction film is an adaptation of Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life," focusing on linguistics and alien contact.
  10. Secret Window (2004) - Adapted from Stephen King's novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden," this psychological thriller follows a writer accused of plagiarism by a mysterious stranger.
  11. In the Bedroom (2001) - This film is based on Andre Dubus' short story "Killings." It's a drama that delves into the themes of grief, revenge, and the moral complexities that arise after a family tragedy. The film, directed by Todd Field, received critical acclaim for its powerful performances and sensitive portrayal of its challenging subject matter.
  12. Total Recall (1990 and 2012) - Both films are adaptations of Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," dealing with memory and identity.
  13. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) - Directed by Steven Spielberg, this film is based on the short story "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" by Brian Aldiss, exploring themes of humanity and artificial intelligence.
  14. Stand by Me (1986) - Another adaptation of a Stephen King novella, "The Body," from "Different Seasons," this film is a coming-of-age story about four boys who go on a hike to find a dead body.
  15. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - Based on Truman Capote's novella, this romantic comedy-drama film became an iconic representation of Audrey Hepburn.

Short stories are proving to be a goldmine for Hollywood in its ongoing quest for compelling, diverse, and adaptable content.

And the quest for intellectual property.

If you get good at writing them, they might be your key to breaking into Hollywood.

Let me know what you think in the comments.