This is my newest 10 minute play for teens and the classroom.
Synopsis: What does a girl do when her best friend’s boyfriend hits on her? Teen breakups are messy. Most teens haven’t done it very often and they consistently get it wrong. If Rob wants to be with Kelly, she has some rules about that happening. After all, Rob’s soon-to-be ex-girlfriend is Kelly’s best friend. 1 m. 3 f.
This new play is part of a series, ‘Short N’ Small’. Over 30 short plays, wonderful for the classroom. No sets, no costumes, no props.
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As a playwright you better find some conflict in your story. Little Women had soft, cozy conflict but make no mistake there was conflict. Romeo and Juliet had glaring conflict represented by a family feud that wrought murder and mayhem. To be successful, you must have antagonists and protagonists in your plot.
CONFLICT: 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 in front of you, to tell the story with their body language but the dialogue carries the day and is the difference between weak writing and strong, successful writing.
Using examples from a recent play of mine, I will demonstrate conflict in simple, but successful (to the overall plot of the play) terms. A children’s play but the rules still apply and are no less challenging because it’s a kids’ play. Perhaps even more of a challenge.
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.
Back in the day when there were truly ‘starving actors’ we started up theatre companies all the time with a couple of platforms and four ‘spots’ that one would use in a shop in the garage at home. This is a cheap ($12. a piece) adaptable, portable light. You can even attach a gel to the cone for a few pennies per gel. Use blues for night and warm colors (amber) for day. Each light has a wire running back to the control desk/booth and while you won’t have a dimmer option, you must be able to turn the light off and on.
When we started our own company, we had to be totally portable as our performance space could be an art gallery, a café, a gymnasium, or school auditorium. Anywhere they would allow us to use their space. All sites had to be vacated when the weekend was over and then loaded back in for the next performance date.
We could light just about any play with four of these clamp-on, shop lights. The purpose of any stage lighting is to light the actors and the set. If you don’t accomplish anything else, you need to make certain this happens. If your stage is in a very small space, it’s not super critical to light the actors brightly. Just be certain they stay in the light, which is where the director’s blocking comes in.
Even if you need to stick to the basics of simple illumination, lighting makes everything feel more professional and helps the audience to better focus on what is going on, on the stage. Theatrical lighting doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Lighting is about making certain that you can see the people on stage and that the moods of the play are represented and amplified.
Clamp lights aren’t the be all and end all. You’ll have to live with the shadows that they cast.
But remember, this is all you can afford now, and you’ll also need to be able to break it down and take the lighting with you.
I still remember the thrill when we could finally afford a couple of Klieg lights.
Most theatres have a set designer who creates the set based on the director’s vision. But it is important that the playwright sees the set. Where your story takes place. If your set requires two different scenes/sets and you have structured the play around two sets you must think about time and money. Anticipate the cost because you want the director to choose your play to produce. But if the cost of more than one set is too much, your play might never be chosen.
An envelope design works nicely for the need of two locations/sets in one play. The first set in created on the outside fold of an envelope. When the scene changes the ‘flap’ is opened, like a tri-fold (by the stage crew) and a new set/location is used. Set pieces (Furnishings) have to be changed out and this calls for some cleverness on the director’s part.
One play comes to mind that I directed: The Cemetery Club. The main set was a living room of one of the female characters. But I also needed a Jewish cemetery. The four widows went there every month to visit their dead husbands and maintain the gravesite.
So what I designed was a single backdrop (scenery). What you might see out the living room window. Then I furnished the living room with set pieces. Sofa, chairs, coffee table, lamps, etc.
Upstage on a riser I created the cemetery with three graves. I designed starfoam monuments with the Star of David on the downstage side. The women would walk up on the risers and, while gazing at the graves, deliver their monologues. It worked because the actors believed it. Thus the audience believed it. The magic of theatre!
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Recently I was invited to read and review a new collection of three plays. There was so much WRONG with the formatting and the lack of knowledge by the playwright that I couldn’t review it without tearing it all down and asking the playwright to begin anew. But there evolved a constructive critique that might help other new writers.
Back cover should not be blank with a graphic design. Don’t waste this space.
1. Use this space as an opportunity to grab the buyer/director. List titles and short synopses of your plays. Count gender and following synopsis type this: 1m. 4f. (indicating one male and four females.
2. One line tags
3. A short bio of you
Pg1. First page: Title of play/s
Pg.2: Copyright notice
Pg 3: list of play titles and Pg # they start on.
In the first few pages you should have a Contents (list) with the tile of each play and the page number it begins. Make it as easy as you can for the director to find the play and the list of characters Because this dictates whether the director can use your play or not depending on age of character and gender. Always keep in mind that men are harder to cast.
On whatever page a new play starts it should begin with the title and the list of characters.
Be certain, you as the playwright, understand what constitutes a full length play. a One Act play, and a Ten Minute Play. If your plays are preachy and esoteric it will be a hard sell to a director.
The end of a play is indicated with one word, centered: CURTAIN
‘Black out‘ and ‘End of Scene‘ are no longer used. The director will understand when a new scene begins. The next page demonstrates to the reader that a new scene is beginning. ‘Act’ and ‘Scene’ should be centered.
CHARACTERS names and blocking should be centered on page; NO underline.
If you find yourself writing a soliloquy or a monologue in a scene, break it up by having other characters insert dialogue in your speech. It then becomes less preachy and more dynamic.
Be certain YOU know the difference between a Ten Minute Play, a Full Length play (with two acts) and a One Act Play. The first act in a full length play is longer than the second act. Full length plays are about 100 pages/minutes. And no one ever uses an Act III unless your plays is over two hours or closer to 3 hours long. Also, a no-no. Remember the rule of thumb is one minute per page. This varies based on how ‘busy’ the blocking is as that takes time too. It is permissible that a 10 minute play might go over but never more than 18 to 20 minutes.
The first few pages of the book should be simple and convey the correct information. Keep it simple. The title of your book should be on the 1st page of your book. The next page [on the left] should be your copyright page. On the right should be your table of contents (centered)
Title with page numbers. (justified left)
On the page number of the play, the title should be on the 1st page. (odd numbered page, right side) the next page (odd numbered) should be the list of characters. The blocking and description of how the play should be produced does not need to be too detailed. Remember this is the job of the director to interpret the playwright’s Play.
When the formatting is not industry-standard, I have seen more than one director throw the book/script into the ’round file’.
Look at other scripts on line for guidance.
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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!
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
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I woke up one morning and thought, “I’ve got some soliloquies tucked away that would make good monologues. This book is unique because all the contemporary monologues are original. Directors get bored and tired of the same old shoes like speeches from Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Barefoot in the Park, Streetcar Named Desire, Pygmalion, View from the Bridge and others. Make them sit up and listen when you use something they have never heard before!
And that brings me to the point that I want to share with my readers out there who are writers or want to be writers. Previously I was talking about my digging out some old and new work and turning them into a book of monologues. Never, never throw anything away. Open up that dusty old box of your scribbles that you have hidden away on the top shelf of the closet. You might be surprised what you find and how much you like it after a year, five years or ten. “Note from a Watery Grave” which I scribbled down back in 2002?….turns out it was pretty good with some additional editing on my part. The end result was a new book. My motivation: as an actor, I know how hard it is to find that perfect monologue for an audition. How difficult it is to get the director’s attention and keep it.
While compiling this book, I remembered how I would go to an audition and announce that my classical piece was going to be Anne from Richard III. The director (or audition panel) would roll their eyes and yawn in my face. The ‘Anne’ that they were thinking of was an old tired thing that’s been done to death, when Richard confronts Anne over the coffin. My ‘Anne’ was a conversation that I pieced together into a soliloquy and I was certain that they had never seen. I got the same reaction from the director every time; they sat up and listened! And afterwards, they laughed and told me they were expecting something else and how refreshing mine was.
A final note: I have included not only some classics (so that your audition will show contrast in your acting ability) but also some original monologues for the African-American actress.
Sampling from Monologues 4 Women:
(The Waltz, comedic)
My first dance! My first grown-up dinner dance since I got my job in the typing pool. I haven’t been asked to dance yet…no surprise… but I don’t care. My dress is only second hand, my hair is dressed and my nails are clean. I’m just happy to be here, watching the couples twirl around the floor to the most wonderful band I’ve ever heard. Never mind it’s the first band I’ve ever heard in person.
Ooo, look at that tall handsome man walking towards me. He’s probably getting something to drink for his date.
My mother always told us girls to stand near the refreshment table so more gentlemen would notice us and ask one of us to dance. But it was always Violet that they asked; of us six girls, she’s the beauty in the family. Wait! He’s looking right at me….he caught me staring and day-dreaming. I looked down and stared at my shoes; maybe he will ignore my bad manners and continue on….oh no, he stopped! His shoes are standing right in front of me.
He speaks. ‘Excuse me, Miss Guyer?’ My chin resting on my chest I mumble, ‘yes’. He tells me his name is Arthur. Wouldn’t you know he was a namesake for a great king? He then asked, would I like to dance. I forced myself to look up, just a tiny peek before I declined. Looking into the most beautiful eyes…hazel I think it’s called, sometimes green, sometimes brown. I am lost. He’s holding out his hand and without speaking I put my hand in his and he led me to the dance floor.
The band had begun playing a waltz and Arthur smoothly led me into the dance. I guess we chat about small things. He asked where I worked in the company and then tells me he’s part of the law firm that my company retains. He tells me about his mother and four siblings. Suddenly he asked me if I intended to look at him at all before the dance was over. I realized I had been staring at his crisp white shirted chest the entire time. My eyes snap up to his face to find he was smiling…..
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You’ll receive (in an email) weekly posts with the latest book reviews, tips about creative writing, and once a month an in-depth Interview with a best selling author or a new, upcoming writer. Generous folks, famous and not so much (yet) have given of their time to answer my probing questions about their writing process. Fun and interesting candid photos, of the author, are sprinkled throughout the interview.
Sometimes a post about something I thought was interesting…..But, ALWAYS to do with books, authors, writing, words, and live theatre.
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When I’m not busy with my blog, I am writing….every day. I practice what I preach!
Short plays for the classroom, general fiction, children’s plays and fairy tales, poetry and a true crime mystery series. Diversity is the
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What is a story arc, you ask. The 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 is created via plot and character development.
A strong storytelling arc follows this principle. It shows rise and fall, cause and effect, in a way that makes sense. An example is from one of my stage plays, Women Outside the Walls. Right before intermission, my antagonist, Charlie (an inmate) took the entire visiting room hostage, with a knife. Who wouldn’t want to come back (after intermission) to see what happens next?
It is my belief that the story’s arc, in a stage play, should happen right before the intermission. More people than you can guess will leave at the intermission. So my theory is to ‘hook’ them and make your audience want to come back in and sit down.
‘A whole should have a beginning, middle and an end… A well constructed plot … must neither begin nor end at haphazard.’ Aristotle
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Martin Short, (famous actor on SNL, career included dozens of movies) was recently interviewed where he told a charming story. He, Gilda Radner, Paul Shaffer were born (as actors) at ‘Second City’, Toronto. In the early days, Martin was in a community theatre production of Fortune & Men’s Eyes. The director told the actors that, as the audience came in and took their seats, the actors would be pacing on stage, in a prison setting. In character, wearing only their underwear.
Gilda (whom Martin was dating at the time 1972), Paul and some other pals all planned to go see Martin one night. But, as the story goes, the thing Paul Shaffer was really excited about was they would all go for dinner after at the Shakespeare Steakhouse.
So on the night of the performance, Martin’s friends arrived and Paul, upon seeing Martin pacing, moved up the lip the of the stage and whispered, “Martin, Shakespeare Steakhouse is closed, wink once if Bavarian Seafood makes sense.”
This type of crazy thing happens all the time in live theatre. Short’s story brought to mind the time that my husband played Dr. Miranda, (a murderous ex-Nazi) in Death and the Maiden (a part that Ben Kingsley is famous for). Our theatre was so small that it didn’t have a curtain. Since Dr. Miranda is held hostage and tied up for most of the play, it meant that my husband, John, remained on stage, in character and tied up during intermission. With audience members coming and going. Actually, he volunteered as there was no logical way to get him untied and offstage.
During intermission, a trio of white-haired senior ladies came tripping down the aisle and neared the edge of the stage. John (said later) prayed that they were not
going to speak to him. They moved as close to him as they could and one of the dear old things winked and said to him, in a stage-whisper, “Psst! Psst! Mister! Do you want us to untie you?” Giggling and twittering they turned and found their seats again. John stayed in character but it was hard not to burst out laughing.
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Ethnic groups have polarized and bullied each other for years, out on the street. Recently, teens have taken to their cell phones and computers to do the same. Blacks against whites against browns. All good kids at their core, but divided by the color of their skin.
This series has been very popular, over the years, with teachers and students. Sets, costumes, props are not needed. Most pertain to real life issues for teens so these plays are meant to open a dialogue between teens and their teachers. Or, at the very least, to experience live theatre.
All ‘G’ rated so no adult content. When profanities are used, as teens do in real life, they are optional and can be easily eliminated.
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TS. ‘ACTION drives a screenplay, that and plot. DIALOGUE drives a stage play so it better be damn good. In my opinion, if your action is good in a screenplay, the dialogue can be mediocre and often is in blockbusters. If your dialogue is crisp and interesting and helps drive the story, you’ve done a better job than most in Hollywood.’
While you can buy books and software to do the job for you it’s always good to have a grasp of the general spacing standards. The top, bottom and right margins of a screenplay are 1″. The left margin is 1.5″. The extra half-inch of white space to the left of a script page allows for binding with brads, yet still imparts a feeling of vertical balance of the text on the page. The entire document should be single-spaced.
The very first item on the first page should be the words FADE IN:. Note: the first page is never numbered. Subsequent page numbers appear in the upper right hand corner, 0.5″ from the top of the page, flush right to the margin.
Below is a list of items (with definitions) that make up the screenplay format, along with indenting information. Again, screenplay software will automatically format all these elements, but a screenwriter must have a working knowledge of the definitions to know when to use each one.
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″
A scene heading is a one-line description of the location and time of day of a scene, also known as a “slugline.” It should always be in CAPS.
Example: EXT. WRITERS STORE – DAY reveals that the action takes place outside The Writers Store during the daytime.
When a new scene heading is not necessary, but some distinction needs to be made in the action, you can use a subheader. But be sure to use these sparingly, as a script full of subheaders is generally frowned upon. A good example is when there are a series of quick cuts between two locations, you would use the term INTERCUT and the scene locations.
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″
The narrative description of the events of a scene, written in the present tense. Also less commonly known as direction, visual exposition, blackstuff, description or scene direction.
Remember – only things that can be seen and heard should be included in the action.
Indent: Left: 2.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 4.0″
When a character is introduced, his name should be capitalized within the action. For example: The door opens and in walks LIAM, a thirty-something hipster with attitude to spare.
A character’s name is CAPPED and always listed above his lines of dialogue. Minor characters may be listed without names, for example “TAXI DRIVER” or “CUSTOMER.”
A parenthetical is direction for the character, that is either attitude or action-oriented. With roots in the playwriting genre, today, parentheticals are used very rarely, and only if absolutely necessary. Why? Two reasons. First, if you need to use a parenthetical to convey what’s going on with your dialogue, then it probably just needs a good re-write. Second, it’s the director’s job to instruct an actor on how to deliver a line, and everyone knows not to encroach on the director’s turf!
Placed after the character’s name, in parentheses
An abbreviated technical note placed after the character’s name to indicate how the voice will be heard onscreen, for example, if the character is speaking as a voice-over, it would appear as LIAM (V.O.).
Transitions are film editing instructions, and generally only appear in a shooting script. Transition verbiage includes:
As a spec script writer, you should avoid using a transition unless there is no other way to indicate a story element. For example, you might need to use DISSOLVE TO: to indicate that a large amount of time has passed.
Indent: Left: 0.0″ Right: 0.0″ Width: 6.0″
A shot tells the reader the focal point within a scene has changed. Like a transition, there’s rarely a time when a spec screenwriter should insert shot directions. Once again, that’s the director’s job.
Sample of what your page should look like: [Source: The Writer’s Digest]