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How To Write a Play~~Plot, Pro/Antagonist, Conflict

Whether you are a reader or a writer you love a little conflict and a few antagonists in any plot. So to the writers of stage plays.

It is a challenge to write conflict with dialogue only. There is no description (like fiction) where you can tell the reader how angry and against something your antagonist is. Granted you have the characters right there to tell the story with their body language but….

I am going to use examples from my most recent play. A children’s play but the rules still apply and are not less challenging because it’s a kids’ play. 

Sub-PLOT:  The sooner the plot is revealed the better. If you haven’t engaged the audience in the first three minutes, you don’t have a very good plot. In Emma and the Aardvarks the plot begins on the first page of script. Two Aardvarks, sisters, tumble out of a Time Portal and into the fabled forest. In minutes the occupants of the forest discover them and the audience discovers the protagonists and antagonists. 

Example: (Plot)

                                                         AGNES  ©
(Gazing up into the trees, HER nose switching as fast as possible.)

I think we’re lost, dear sister. This doesn’t look anything like the pictures of Australia in our book.

            ANNIE
(Frowning.)

Oh, dear, I’m quite afraid.

                                                            STARE (Owl)

Whooo?

                                                            ANNIE
                                                (ANNIE runs over to AGNES.)

Ekk. What was that?                                                       
                                                            STARE

Who?

                                                            AGNES

What?                                                           

                                                            ANNIE

That.
                                                            AGNES

Not certain. But keep a look out anyway.

                                                           ANNIE

I don’t like this place, Agnes.

                                                            AGNES

You’re such a scaredy-cat, Annie. It’s a simple forest, much like the jungles of home.

                        (DONALD, a fairie, enters.)

                                                            DONALD

                         Don’t go. I mean you no harm.

(With the dialogue, we’ve told the audience that the two sisters are in the forest by accident. That their destination had been Australia. They meet their first friend (protagonist). 

ANTAGONISTS: We’ll return to the plot later but let’s go on…Enter the first antagonist. This character is very selfish and immediately is suspicious of the two newcomers.

Example: (Antagonist)

                                                                  PATSY (Banana Spider)
                                                (Knitting her web very fast.)

Eye–eee! Por favor, who are these ugly newcomers? Dios mío, ¿se comerán mis insectos? The bugs are for me and me alone!

                                                            DONALD

Patsy, where are your manners? Everyone is welcome in the fabled forest, as long as they come in peace.

                                                            PATSY

Dios mio, how do we know they come in peace, pequeño? Se ven como bandidos!

Another Protagonist enters:

                                                             EMMA

Please join us. (Turning to Donald.)  Donald introduce us immediately.

                                                            DONALD

Miss Agnes, Miss Annie, this is my friend, Emma.

                                                            EMMA

Oh! You are so cute. It’s nice to meet new friends.  And such pretty hats. May I? (EMMA reached up and adjusted the frothy thing atop AGNES’ head that had been knocked askew in the mad dash into the forest.) You’re the shy young lady, aren’t you? May I adjust your hat, Miss Annie? There! All fixed. May I ask? What species are you?

PLOT: After a few main characters are established, we  return to the main Plot, (all told through dialogue) which is about global warming and endangered species. 

Example (Plot):  

                                                             EMMA 

Miss Agnes, why were you going to Australia?

                                                            AGNES

Back home, in Africa, we are losing our habitat to humans, farms, and roads.

                                                            ANNIE

It’s terrible. There aren’t very many of us aardvarks left, you know.

                                                            CHEETS

What does that mean? ‘Not many of you left’?

                                                            AGNES

We’re being killed off.

                                                            EMMA 

Oh no! But you’re so cute. And if you’re insectivores, you help keep the natural world balanced.

                                                            AGNES

One would think so. (Beat.) So when our habitat goes, we go. We are threatened.

                                                            DONALD

We must do something!

ANTAGONIST & Protagonists:  The Plot thickens when you have more than one antagonist. And when you can, more than one protagonist.

Example (Antagonist and Protagonists.): 

                                                           CHEETS

I don’t like them. Nope. Don’t like the look of them and they smell funny.

                                                            STARE

Who?

                                                            CHEETS

Those two⸺whad-ya-call-ems.

                                                           EMMA

Aardvarks.

                                                            CHEETS

Yeah⸺them.

                                                            EMMA

Cheets, that’s unkind. You know nothing of Annie and Agnes. They seem perfectly fine to me. In fact, I think they’re cute.

                                                            STARE
                                                           
Who?

                                                            THOMAS

Quiet, Stare. Those two ladies are my friends from the Dark Continent.  As for you, you⸺you scurvy young scallywag you keep yer opinions to yerself.

                                                            CHEETS

But what if they eat someone we know?

                                                            EMMA

Cheets, that’s silly. Do you know any ants? Beetles? Termites on a personal basis?

                                                            CHEETS

Noooo⸺but I might meet some.

                                                              EMMA

Yes, Cheets, you’re judging these newcomers and deciding you don’t like them based on⸺what? Nothing.

                                                            THOMAS

They’ve had a rough go. The place they lived is no more. The picaroons have burned it, then planted it. Some of their family and friends have been killed.

                                                             CHEETS

Don’t care. Still don’t like ‘em. Who ever heard of aardvarks, anyway?

CONFLICT: 5 Ways to Create Conflict in Your Story:
Give your characters clear goals.
Go big, go small. 
Let your characters fail. 
4. Make your characters opinionated. 
Use exposition to your advantage.

The Time Portal is malfunctioning. Some of the occupants of the forest are welcoming, some are suspicious and angry. 

Example:                                           EMMA

He’s very excitable, Miss Agnes. Are you really from Africa?

                                                            ANNIE
                                    (Cuddling close to EMMA’s side.)

Yes, Miss Emma, we were going on vacation and then this⸺happened.

                                                            EMMA

Oh, dear, I’m sorry.

                                                            AGNES

Yes, our travel agent, Time Portal for All Your Vacation Needs, was supposed to send us to Australia. We have distant relatives there. Something must have gone wrong. Someone at the agency pushed the wrong button.

                                                            ANNIE

Where are we, exactly?

                                                            CHEETS
                                    (Poking HIS head out of the bushes.)

You’re in the Fabled Forest. Don’t you know anything?                                                           

                                                            AGNES 

Who raised you? Dogs?  (Beat.) No, not dogs, they are strict with their children. Hyenas, perhaps? Yes, hyenas, our arch enemies. 

More CONFLICT: 
Example: 

                                                          EMMA
                                                    (Steps forward.)

Welcome to our forest. I am Emma and these are my friends. Where did you come from?

                                                            STARE

Who?                                      

                                                            AGNES
                                                         (Sneering.)

Emma, you don’t want to be friends with them. After all they’re just dogs.

Resolution of CONFLICT: The royal engineer enters. Sent to repair the Time Portal so the Aardvarks can be on their way.

 Example:     

                                                                CHEETS
                                                (Jumping up and down.)

The Queen! The Queen! The Queen Cometh!

                                                            FERGUS
                                                     (Looking around.)

No. I don’t think so. It’s just me and my toolbox.

                                                            EMMA

Why have you been sent to us, Mr. Fergus?

                                                            FERGUS

It’s just Fergus, Miss. Or in more formal settings, Sir Fergus.

                                                            DONALD

And you’re here because⸺?

                                                            FERGUS

To repair your portal⸺time machine⸺of course. It is broken, isn’t it?

                                                            DONALD

Our portal?                                                     

                                                            CHEETS
                                                     (Whispers in awe.)

We have a portal?                                                           

                                                            EMMA

And the Queen knew ours is broken?

                                                            CHEETS

What’s a portal?                                                         

                                                            FERGUS

Yes. Yes. Indubitably. If you’ll just show me the way, I’ll begin my work.

                                                            EMMA
I’m afraid we have no idea where it might be in the forest. Until the sisters arrived we didn’t know anything about a portal. They arrived from Africa.

More CONFLICT: More animals arrive through the Portal. This results in more conflict.

Example: 

                                                             EMMA
                                                    (Steps forward.)

Welcome to our forest. I am Emma and these are my friends. Where did you come from?

                                                            STARE

Who?                                      

                                                            AGNES

Emma, you don’t want to be friends with them. After all they’re just dogs.

                                                              FERGUS

Blimey. Someone’s coming.

                                    (Out of the entrance to the Portal tumble dog-like CREATURES. The five PUPPIES yip and howl as they tumble to the                                          forest floor.)

                                                            MIC
                                                        (Howling.)

Moommmyy! What’s happening?                                                           

                                                            SERENGETI
                                                            (Howling louder.)

Moommmyy! I’m a-scarrr-eeddd.

                                                            STARE
                                                (Trying to join the howling.)

Whooooooooooooo?

                                    (Two adult DOGS enter from the Portal mouth.)

                                                            MRS. MOSEYALONG
                   Tentatively wagging HER tail.)

It’s all right, children. We’re safe.

                                                            JAX

Stop being such a baby, Serengeti.

                                                            SERENGETI
              (Cowering near HER mother’s legs.)

I’m not.
                                                            JAX

Are too.

                                                           MR. MOSEYALONG

Quiet now, children.                                                           

                                                            SERENGETI

Yes, Papa.

                                                            MIC

Where are we, Papa?

                                                   MR. MOSEYALONG

I’m not certain just yet⸺but I intend to find out!  Yip, Yip, yowwww.

                                                   MRS. MOSEYALONG                                

Goodness, who might you all be?

                                                            ROGER
                                                            (Whining.)

Mama, who are they? Will they hurt us?                                               

                                                            ZEKE
                                                (Yipping and howling.)

I want to go home.

                                                            CHEETS
                                                (Pointing at the dogs.)

Look! Our forest is turning into a jungle of expired animals!

Remember, dialog is simply conversation between your characters. In your story, imagine what your characters would say to each other in a conversation. The more conflict you create in your story, the richer the story will be. Be aware of ‘loose ends’ when you solve the conflict.
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When will My Stories be Discovered??

TS. I wrote this post back in 2012….seven years ago. But most of it still holds true today.

Okay, so now you have a publisher…your books will fly off the shelves or through cyberspace, right?  Au contra, it’s still going to take some time. Or at least, that’s certainly been my experience….

Samuel French (biggest publisher for stage plays)  picked me up in 2004 and has since published four of my stage plays.  I am so grateful to be in the same publishing house as  Louisa May Alcott, David Mamet, Anton Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams. And the staff is so nurturing to their authors.  But, here’s the reality: No sales the first year, a few the second year, more the third year and so on…….but, sadly, no BIG immediate discovery of this playwright!  Not like in the movies!!

So I kept writing and editing and submitting……and writing more!

I am happy to share with my readers the news that I received a nice fat check from French with reports that reflected my biggest sales period EVER, the first quarter, this year (2012)!  Over the last six months they have sold seventy scripts of mine.  Most orders were in multiple quantities which means a theatre company was buying enough books for cast and crew.  And that means that somewhere, out in the world, theatre companies are producing my work!  You might be saying to yourself, ‘that’s not so many’  but think about it.  That’s 11.6 scripts per month. And like I said, most of them were NOT perusal copies (of one) but the number that they would need to produce a show! One production in Bangor, Maine and the other in Phoenix, AZ.

Last year (2018) a play of mine was produced in Iceland and the UK.

My books are finally selling with some welcomed regularity on amazon.com (USA and Europe) and other book outlets. After eight long years!!

So my message to you is: Keep writing, fellow writers.  Keep editing, rewriting. That’s where a really good story/book is born.  When you get rejection after rejection  (as I did) let that be the spur to write more! Use ‘Self publishing’ . ‘Vanity’ books are a thing of the past…or almost.  Most of us, as writers, have something important to say and vanity is far, far away from our thoughts.  With the advent of ‘print on demand’ self publishing is not the huge investment it used to be.  I self publish for less than $100. plus the wholesale cost of the finished book.  Sure your publisher takes a cut…but!  You’re published!!

Writing is a lonely business but keep at it.  I’ll believe in you if you’ll believe in me!
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!  December: Australian mystery writer, Dervla  McTiernan
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Write Your First Play

Over the many years writing my blog the stats report a recurring key phrase,  How  to write a play’, and I thought my readers might find it interesting to read about what inspired my play scripts. 

The short answer is:  A true story…. something that caught my attention that was someone else’s story.

The long answer:  My first play ‘Lost Child back in 1994 was based on a true story of a Dad dealing with his gay son.  Back then HIV and AIDS was a death sentence.  The father was homophobic and macho.  He rejected his son.  To make the story complete I added another set of parents that were  totally supportive of their gay son.  Sadly this story did not end well and the script was lost on my hard drive  ….someday, I may finish it.

Next came ‘Cook County Justice‘ based upon a fifteen minute segment offered on one of those TV magazines like 20/20. Bill Heirens had been incarcerated for over 40 years (even though his sentence included parole) for a murder I came to believe he didn’t commit.  This story took me on a six year journey; letters from Bill (inmate), support from his team trying to set him free and several productions of my play.

While visiting Bill in the Illinois state Prison for Men early one Sunday morning,  I sat in the reception area waiting to be WOW.play. cover4_20march2014‘processed’ through into the visiting room.  I was surrounded by women of all ages and their children.  Mothers, sisters, wives, daughters….as I sat there they figuratively took me by the nape of my neck and shouted….’you must write about us…tell our story!’   That was the birth of ‘Women Outside the Walls’ a full length play and later a novel.

 

 

book_shop_BillieScent of Magnolia A Tribute to Billie Holiday was conceived in 2001 when a very talented jazz singer/actress out of Chicago asked me if I would write her a one woman show as Billie Holiday. I used, as my inspiration, the early years of Billie’s career before she succumbed to alcohol and drugs. 

 

NEXT! A Hollywood Tale  was based on my own experiences as a young actor in Hollywood and all the story swapping we would do in the green room, waiting to ‘go on’.  There was nothing worse than going to a cattle call audition and in the midHollywood, actors, stage play, actors playing actorsdle of your monologue or reading have the casting director yell:  ‘Next!’  That was your cue line to exit right.   The razor sharp teeth of the machine known as Hollywood chew up aspiring actors and spit them into the gutter.

 

I grew up on my mother’s stories about growing up in the forests of Tumwater, Washington with her 13 siblings.  Back at the turn of the twentieth century life and its entertainments were simple.
Alaska, sisters, adventurers, gold rush,

‘The Guyer Girls’ is a cross between Little Women and I Remember Mama.  The first act is almost all based upon her stories.  The second act was my creation of what happened when the six sisters come back home fifteen years later. With this age of technology I didn’t want these stories to die with her or with me.

 

‘Sins of the Mother’ was also partly biographical.  Again stories told by my mother of her years in San Francisco (1920’s) as a bar owner, women’s basketball player, flapper, and mother.  She used to say,  “I’d work all day and dance all night!”  This full length play developed into a novel, ‘Wild Violets’.

There’s more but this is where I will stop. Every play plot has conflict. The trick is to solve it within two and a half hours.

This post is a re-run from 2014 but well worth the read. 
Want more? Click here for Part 2 

 

A Journal/Handbook to Start YOU writing! 275 blank pages for your work; each margin with an inspiring quote from a famous actor, writer, playwright, or poet.  Sections on ‘how to’ will get you started.

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Dust Off that Play and do Some Rewrites…

Don’t be shy about looking at something you wrote a few years ago and rewriting and revising it. Most reputable publishing platforms will allow you to change the interior files and upload a revised, improved edition. I reviewed this children’s play of mine and in doing so found some editing and new writing. 

It’s October, Halloween is right around the corner. So I hauled out a play script that I wrote in 2013. Wow!  Did it need work. So I edited, did some extensive rewrites, gave it a new, more contemporary cover and then re-published. 

Synopsis: A young family rents a deserted lighthouse so that their critically ill daughter can enjoy the sea breezes and beautiful countryside. Little do they know that, for centuries, the lighthouse has been the home and is in the ‘possession’ of four outrageous spirits.  
 
Ben, an eight year old boy, has no trouble whatsoever making friends with two of the spirits, Baubles and Chaos.  The story climaxes as Claire, ill with cancer, slowly fades toward death. Baubles and Chaos have no intention of letting that happen! 

Available now!

 
While this play has it’s serious moments, for the most part, it is a comedy and makes for great fun as the spirits romp around the stage. The adults can neither see nor hear Chaos and Baubles as they converse and play with the children and terrorize a ‘Man of the Cloth’! All in innocent fun, of course!  4f. 4m. 2 children

If you’re an aspiring playwright you might want to take a look at >>>>>>>>>>>>>

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
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Available now!

NEW Journal…How To Write a Play

My newest Journal created for aspiring and established PLAYWRIGHTS has just been published and can be found in your favorite bookstore. 

245+ lined, blank pages for your writing PLUS Sections with instructions on ‘how to‘. 

Section 1……How to Begin… 
Section 2……How to Write a Play… 
Section 3……Creating Rich Characters…
Section 4……Story Telling 
Section 5…… How to Block… 
Section 6…… Snappy Dialogue… 
Section 7…… Set Design… 
Section 8…… Formatting your Play… 
Section 9…… Terminology..

To Purchase 

Other custom journals for your journaling pleasure: 

 

 

 

 

How to Create a Tantalizing Book Cover 

 

What Other Writers are Saying…

TS. I am currently developing a new journal for creative writers who are or want to be writing plays. If my fans and readers are familiar with my journals, it is traditional for me to embed quotes from other writers, authors, actors, directors, etc., into the blank pages of the journal. These are meant to inspire the owner of the journal with their own story writing.

Louis L’Amour

So I am always looking for new quotes as I hand pick every one when considering them for my journals. Here are what other writers have said about the joys (and heartbreak) of being a writer.

 

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Ernest Hemingway 

Mary Y-Arr

“What would you write if you weren’t afraid?” Mary Y-Arr

 

“The thing all writers do best is find ways to avoid writing.” Alan Dean Foster

Alan Dean Foster

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” Jodi Picoult

“The desire to write grows with writing.” Desiderius Erasmus

“I must write it all out at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.” Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“As a writer you try to listen to what others aren’t saying…and write about the silence.” N.R. Hart 

MJ Bush

“Step into a scene and let it drip from your fingertips.” MJ Bush 

“We write to taste life twice. In the moment and in retrospect.” Anais Nin

Anais Nin

“I think new writers are too worried that it has all been said before. Sure it has but not by you.” Asha Dornfest 

“An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” Stephen King

Stephen King

“Be courageous and try to write in a way that scares you a little.” Holley Gerth

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   May: Boo Walker, June: Anne D. LeClaire and July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August: My interview with Susan Wiggs and in September: Alan Dean Foster (sci-fi)
 
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New 10 Minute Play, ‘Parkland Requiem’

Requiem: an act or token of remembrance…

Mass shootings are a part of our current culture. Not until now did I have something to say (write) about the mass murders that plague our nation. One day after the horrendous mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal building did I begin writing. 

Synopsis:

This ten minute play for teens (in the classroom) is to honor and memorialize the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. It focuses on a small class of students hidden away in safety by their English teacher and what happens while they wait for the shooting to stop. But the question begs will they ever be safe again?

The murdered victims:

My character, Mr. Hale is fashioned after Scott Beigel, 35, a geography teacher and the school’s cross-country coach. He was killed after he unlocked a door to allow students in to hide from the shooter,

Alyssa Alhadeff
Aaron Feis
Martin Duque Anguiano
Nicholas Dworet
Jamie Guttenberg
Chris Hixon
Luke Hoyer
Cara Loughran
Gina Montalto
Joaquin Oliver
Alaina Petty
Meadow Pollack
Helena Ramsay
Carmen Schentrup
Peter Wang

Want to see more one act plays? Click here 
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   April: Poet, Joe Albanese, May: Boo Walker, June: Anne D. LeClaire and July — Catherine Ryan Hyde
 
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Need a Journal for the Creative Writer?

My dear readers and fellow creative writers, don’t forget about the wonderful journals that I have created just for you.

250+ lined, blank pages for your writings, musings, and ideas. Each blank page is embedded with an inspirational quote from a famous author, writer, actor or director.  Some ‘how to’ sections (from me) to help and inspire you to get started; either writing your first short story or beginning that new novel you’ve been prevaricating about.

How To Begin
That All Important First Sentence 

How to Choose the Subject of your Story or Playtest
Formatting your Play
How to write Dialogue
How to Create Rich, Exciting Characters for your Novel
Story Arc

“I wanna write!” “I’ve got a story.” “I’ve always wanted to write.” 
Writers write!  Full stop. Period.

 

To Purchase

 

 

 

 

…and for expectant Mommy

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   February: Rick Lenz, March: Patrick Canning, April: Poet, Joe Albanese and May: Boo Walker, June: Anne D. LeClaire,  July: Catherine Ryan Hyde
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Book #1 (of 10)

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In Honor of National Poetry Month

I’m a humble poet, a rambling rhymester, a free verse fanatic, a Haiku sycophant. I love other poets and their scribbles and I worship at the altar of Charles Bukowski. For the month of April I celebrate National Poetry month with some of my own scribbles. 

Fragrance of Life © Trisha Sugarek

Cool rain drums on blistering
asphalt, the scent streams into
the nostrils–hot, grassy smell of
summer, freshly cut-smoky
cedar lingers on the air

Fresh popcorn drenched in
butter, I sit in the dark, musty
movie house. Childhood
memories of Tom Mix dashing
across the screen

A breath, deep of rain-damp wool,
heady peat of whiskey
neat. Old butt-imprinted leather
and the dusty, pulpy smell of a
well thumbed book as the page
is turned

The mule drawn plough turns the
rich, boggy earth beneath an
autumn sky. With luck and some
rain the larder is full at harvest
time

Wrapped in strong arms, nose
pressed to warm skin smelling of
soap and outdoors. Drinking the
heat in with the smell of the
man, your man

Sweet puppy breath. Pure
doggy conviction that you will
love him as much as he loves
you

Candles and incense in the
great cathedral… the heart fills
with faith, hope, and
expectation

Soft curls, sweet skin, the babe
squirms closer… powdery
newness, innocence, and trust

Briny, sharp tang of the northern
sea. Balmy, yielding, essence
under the Southern Cross
Green aftertaste, fishy decay
and salty fresh scent of the
clean-swept beach

Sultry air twines itself through the
Quarter, crushed sugar, wet
pavement, yeasty bouquet of
hot beignet. Warm beer,
praline sweet, heady grape
Old river water slugs along

Stifling, coppery smell of blood
be it the battle field, hospital,
crime scene, butcher shop, or
birthing room…

Cloys in the nostrils sticks in the
back of the throat like old
mucus,

Icy sweetness of winter air,
frigid sting of snow to come…
sharp pine tantalizes the senses,
as harsh breath smokes the air

Steaming manure in fresh straw,
roasted peanuts, pink spun
sugary sweet…
the pungent animals stalk the
cage. Sawdust under old
canvas glows like old gold in a
shaft of sun light.
The Big Top!
Childhood rushes back

The smell of her on your
mustache… you don’t want to
wash your face… lose the
intoxicating scent of her love

New trees struggle to rise above
a sea of old petroleum.
Pine sol lies still on the cold tiles,
stale baloney on old bread.
Rancid tired clothes reek of
cheap cologne
The truck belches halitosis

Move on down the highway

Sharp fall gusts through the
quaking aspen,
pitchy sap barks in the
crackling fire,
snowy air assaults the senses

The loon sings, warming and
plucking at the heart.
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   February: Rick Lenz, March: Patrick Canning, April: Poet, Joe Albanese and May: Boo Walker 
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