Writing a Play

Whether it was written last week or a hundred years ago, the playwright's work is the source of all that happens on stage. The playwright or writer creates a make believe world in which the audience can learn, be engaged and entertained.

How does one go about writing for the theatre? While there is no right or wrong way, certain key and vital elements are needed in writing a play. Creative writing skills are an important asset. Reading other plays will help you learn the craft of writing plays. Here are some helpful suggestions that will help the first time playwright.

Your play should:

  • focus on an idea or theme
  • identify a location, time and place for your story
  • involve well-defined characters
  • include dialogue within structured scenes
  • have a story and plot that builds to a dramatic moment or climax

Ideas

  • Choose a theme, a character with a conflict or an idea that is important to you.
  • Expand on your idea and write down everything that comes to mind in a free association exercise. Don't censor your brainstorming session as some of the best ideas come out of the subconscious.
  • At the heart of all plays is a conflict. A play can be about a character that wants something but has to overcome something else to get it. Fill in the blank: "This is a play about a ___________(woman/man) who wants_______________." State what the central characters are seeking. For example, love, power, revenge, freedom.
  • Identify what you think might be the conflict or crisis in the play you want to write.
  • Who is the central character in the play and who's story is it?

Location, Place and Time

  • When and where does your play take place?
  • Can you describe the setting in detail? For example, if the story takes place in a house - could you draw a diagram of the inside and outside of the house? Many playwrights include stage directions that make it easy for readers to visualize the environment.
  • In how many locations will your story take place?
  • If you've chosen a time outside of the present day, describe the fashions, the music, and the day-to-day life of the people who live in your time period.
  • Imagine what kinds of situations and stories could happen in this setting, keeping in mind your idea for the play.

Characters

  • Who will be the characters in your play? What are their relationships to each other?
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about each of your characters. How old are they? What do they like? What kind of home do they live in? Where did they grow up? What do they do for fun? Who are their friends? These details will help you to understand them better and help you to write dialogue for them.
  • How do your characters react to different situations? What's their personality like? What are their goals, their strengths and weaknesses? In building your characters and their personality traits, it will help to observe people around you.
  • Decide how each of your characters reacts to the location you have selected and how they feel there.

Writing Dialogue

  • The biggest challenge many first time writer's experience is writing dialogue for your characters. While we all instinctively know how to talk, it is not easy to make characters sound natural. Get started by recording some conversations you have with friends. It will help you get a sense of the rhythm of speech and how conversations flow.
  • Look at your character descriptions and think about how they would speak. Do they have an accent? How is their grammar? What kind of vocabulary do they use? In your mind, try to see the characters reacting and hear them speak.
  • Write a brief monologue for each of your characters. Now, read it aloud and see if the speech works.
  • Now, try writing some dialogue for two characters in a scene. Get a friend to read the scene with you. As you read the dialogue, move the characters about in your imagined setting.

Creating the Story

  • Start your story by creating a story outline and plot summary.
  • Make a list of scenes. Include a short title for each scene, the location, details about the time of day and a list of characters in the scene. Describe what will happen in each scene.
  • For each scene, decide what each character wants in the scene. Ask yourself why they want it, how they are going to get it, and what's in their way.
  • Just start writing and follow your outline to see what happens.
  • When you've completed your first draft, go back and look at your story outline and scene breakdown again. Have you followed it or did you get a little side-tracked? Have you included all the important information?
  • Don't be afraid to rewrite, cut and rearrange the scenes.
  • The play belongs on a stage, not on a page. The true test of your play will be in the reading of the text. Put a group of friends together and ask them to read your play aloud. Ask them what they think the play is about, what they liked about it, and what things weren't clear. Be sure to take their suggestions. Their views may be similar to what your audience will think.

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