How To Write A Play…9 Tips

Ideas have come to me
in the visiting area of a state prison, a haunted lighthouse, my days in Hollywood, or listening to stories of my mother, growing up with 13 siblings ….. the ideas come to me in a little kernel of truth and I am inspired to write.

I am frequently asked ‘how can you be so prolific?’,  and ‘how do you write so many plays?’ ‘where do you get your ideas?’

So I thought what a perfect time to give my readers nine tips about writing their first stage play.  After all, 45 play scripts ago and seventeen years earlier I began writing my first play script.  And that led me to create the Creative Writers’ Journals and Handbooks which include ‘how to write a play’ and ‘how to create exciting characters.’ I went on to create a book of writing tips. 

        NINE TIPS TO GET YOU STARTED  … and more 

all journals & plays available at

1.  Format is very important.    If you submit your new play to anyone they will not read it if it is not in the proper format. There is software out there that offers auto-format but I found them lacking.   The character’s name is centered. Blocking (action) is indented and placed in parentheses. Setting (indent once), Rise 

 (indent once) the Dialogue is far left. Double space between the character’s name and the first line of dialogue.  Blocking (action): is placed below the character’s name in parentheses. (indent x 3).  A ‘beat’ is a dramatic pause to enhance the pace of the speech and is placed in the dialogue where you wish the actor to pause for a beat or two. Or you might want to buy a play script from a publisher.  Concord Theatricals used to be Samuel French and is still the best. It seems little has changed except the name.

2. Each page represents approximately one minute of time on stage.  So if you have a play that is 200 pages long, that won’t work.  Audiences aren’t going to sit for more than one and a half hours unless you are providing a circus, a fire drill, sex, and an earthquake.  Audiences are even reluctant to sit through “The Iceman for Cometh” a classic by Eugene O’Neill.  full-length to 3 hours. You should keep your full-length script to about 100 pages which equals 1.6 hours of stage time.  For a one-act divide that by 2.  For a ten minute play your script should be from 10-15 pages. These times and figures are debated by others but this has been my experience as an actor/director/writer.

3.  Leave lots of white space on the page.  One day when your play is being produced, actors will need a place to make notes in the script during rehearsal.  This is a sample of an actor’s (mine) working script. The    how to write a play, Trisha Sugaek, inspiration, actor usually ‘highlights’ their lines and writes the director’s blocking in the margins. (in pencil, as blocking frequently changes)

4.  The blocking is indented, in parentheses, and directly below the character’s name.  This is where the playwright gives the characters instructions on when and where to move.  But, keep it short and sweet.  Remember there will be a director who has their ideas of where he/she wants the actors to be.  Be aware of costume changes in your writing.  An actor can’t exit stage left and enter stage right, seconds later, if you haven’t written in the time it will take for them to accomplish a costume change.

5.  Your script has to work on a stage If your story takes place in more than one locale, you have to be aware of the logistics of set changes. So keep it simple to start.  If you are ambitious in your setting buy a book on set design to research if your set is feasible.  Some wonderful ‘envelope’ set designs unfold when you need to change the scene.  But you have to consider the budget; would a theatre have the money to build it? Always a worry.

6.  Dialogue: Now here’s the sometimes hard part:  everything you want the audience to know about the story and the characters, is conveyed in the dialogue.  Unlike a short story or a novel, where you can write as much description as you’d like, a play script has none of that.  No description.  Here is a Sample.Dialogue.Sugarek of dialogue demonstrating how to move the story forward.

7. The ‘Arc’ of your story: The Oxford English Dictionary defines a story arc as ‘(in a novel, play, or movie) the development or resolution of the narrative or principal theme’.  Story arcs are the overall shape of rising and falling tension or emotion in a story. This rise and fall are created via plot and character development. 

Simpler Examples: In Parkland Requiem the ‘arc’ of my story is when the teacher leaves the safety of his classroom to reconnoiter the position of the shooter.

In My Planet, Your Planet, Our Planet the ‘arc’ is when the activist students march in a worldwide March defying all the rules of the school.

8. How To Know When to Change Scenes. When there is a date/time or character/scene change is a good guide. But be careful, if the time/day changes and there is a costume change needed, always remember the audience isn’t a patient creature and they will not sit and wait for very long.  A director can and will set up an area backstage for those quick changes and often the costume mistress will be there to help with shoes, zippers, etc. To save time, you should write the actor entering from the same side as they exited (when possible) to save the time it would take for them to hurry to the other side of the stage.

9. Your play should have a conflict. Your main character should have a conflict that he or she must solve quickly. No conflict = no play. Say you want to write your first play about you and your siblings growing up. That’s easy; have them argue about something. Be certain there is a resolution before your play ends.  Imagine you want to write a love story between two people. There must be a conflict somewhere in the love story. 

Did you miss my post about Publishers?

How to Format your novel


Journals by Trisha Sugarek
Want to see some original plays? Click here.
47 Short Plays to choose from. Click here.
                                               Fiction by Trisha Sugarek
                                               Children’s Books by Sugarek

Want to try writing a ten-minute play? Click here
How to Create Tantalizing Book Covers
Do you need help Formatting a Novel? 

Instruction on:
How To Begin
How to Write a Play
Formatting your Play on the Page
How to write Dialogue
How to Create Rich, Exciting Characters
Stage Terminology

Purchase NOW. Click here

  ‘How To’  Journals and Handbooks for all of your Creative Writing, including how to write a stage Play! 
275 blank, lined pages for your writing.  Tips and famous quotes from authors, playwrights, directors, actors, writers, and poets to help inspire you.  Look Inside

WANT TO LEARN MORE?? … These new Journals/Handbooks offer a total of 14 points of ‘how to’.
 Available on    B&N, and all fine book stores.

If you’d like to try writing a ten-minute play?  Click here
How To Format a Screenplay
How to Format Your Novel
How to Format a Stage Play

  Order here

This new, exciting, instructional book is a sharing of over twenty+ years of experience. This writer has honed  her craft of creative writing and ‘is still learning.’ 

Thirty-five writing tips that include:
That first, all-important, sentence
How to develop rich characters
Writer’s Block
Writing process
What Not to Do (when receiving a critique)

 Takes the ‘scary’ out of writing!


DON’T MISS my  blog, blogs, blogger, writer, author, playwright, books, plays,fictionwith weekly posts.  Also featuring INTERVIEWS with other best-selling AUTHORS! with me once a month. We shall sneak into these writers’ special places, be a fly on the wall and watch them create!  

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12 thoughts on “How To Write A Play…9 Tips”

  1. Hey Trisha, thanks for your post on properly formatting a stage play. It seams to be one of the very few I’ve found online to be correct. I have BOTH Final Draft AND Movie Magic Screenwriter. BOTH have Stage Play templates, but the templates are NOTHING close to proper stage play format! Where can I get a proper stage play template?
    Thanks a bunch!

    1. Hey John. Sorry, but I don’t think I got this message from you. So better late than never. I used Final Draft for awhile but found that they are really focused on TV and screenwriting. Same with Magic Screenwriter. So I manually set up my format because then I know it’s correct. One tip: When a scene includes the same characters (whether it’s two or six) I type, cut and paste their names over and over so it’s ready for me to continue. (Example)
      JOHN. (of course in bold. then I cut and paste over and over as I need it. Works pretty good.)

      1. A musical is not a story set to music. A musical is a combination of dialogue, songs that reveal character or advance the plot, and choreography that does the same thing. They combine to tell the story. Not all musicals contain all three elements, but the ideal does. A musical can be anything if you tell it well.

  2. I’m going to say WOW, thank you very much this has been truly helpful. my wife and i are writing our first play together. we are extremely excited about it. there was some things that we didn’t know and we learn from you. I learn to keep each page approximately one minute long, I learned to keep the play time approximately one-and-a-half hours, ; I also learned to keep my playbook approximately 100 pages that was so many good pointers that my wife and I learn from you. so we thank you very much. Our play is a gospel play that would touch so many expects on life. It also reminds people that God is always there for them and never give up on payer! Thank you and God bless you, keep up the good work. …..

    1. Thanks, Tim for your kind words. My Journal/Workbooks have many more writing tips with a strong focus on play writing. “The Creative Writers Journal” or “Creative Writing for Women”
      or “Real Men Work Out…on Paper”. These journals are chock full of tips and 275 blank lined pages so you may use it as a work book for jotting down ideas, outlining the plot of
      your play, etc. I am so happy that my friends and fans out there are finding this
      post so helpful. It is my ‘best seller’. LOL

  3. For years wrote TV news stories; wrote & produced industrial videos; wrote & directed murder mysteries; struggling now to adapt to completely different types of writing. Your site is very helpful & downloaded for future reference. If at all possible, perhaps you have suggestions & advice. Just finished final draft of a children’s story I’ve been working on for quite some time. Now looking for a reputable, trustworthy publisher. Many out there but reluctant to take a chance.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Roy. I have a similar background, only ALL on stage. Actor, director, producer and now writer full time. Re your questions: Yes, I agree that there are excellent publishers and then some pretty shady ones. I would advise that writers should ask many informed questions. Example: a publisher came to me wanting to publish my fiction. They represented themselves as not only digital but as a publisher of paper renditions of books. Not true; they pushed their digital (e-books) and paperbacks took 6 weeks to get to the customer. They represented that they were interested in my true crime series, when in fact they were really dedicated to the romance genre. I had to buy my way out of my contract; I was that unhappy.
      So once your publisher wants your books, start digging (online) and try to find out as much as you can about them. Of course, in your case Roy, if one of the ‘big dogs’ publishers contact you, there’s fewer worries as they have dedicated divisions to service each genre.
      NO publisher should ever ask the writer to ‘invest’ money (pay them) and a writer should never be tempted to do this. The writer never pays a publisher to publish their book/s.
      A word about the hamster wheel that is to get an agent so you can get a publisher so you can get an agent… I personally don’t have time to chase it down. So I am a prolific indie-publisher. It’s free under the umbrella of Amazon [] and my only cost are my book covers done by a professional graphic designer. I am a prolific blogger and my web site is dedicated to creative writing.
      Hope this reply helps you, Roy, and others. If you have further questions or I can help, you can reach me here.

  4. I have written and performed short sketches for variety shows. I have written one act plays. I am wondering how many pages I need to write for a two act play. Love your website

    1. Hi Don. The Short Answer is 100 pages. Your goal being an 1.5 to 1.45 hour play with a fifteen minute intermission. (20 min. if there are concessions.)

      Here’s the breakdown: The rough ‘rule of thumb’ is each page of your play represents 1 minute of time. The blocking (action) on stage will lengthen or shorten this time.
      100 pages = 1.40 minutes. Not too many playwrights try to figure out how their blocking impacts the time. We all just use this ‘rule of thumb’ of 1 minute per page.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope you will sign up to receive my weekly blog.

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