How to Write a Short Play…7 tips

When writing a short play, you will have no time to ‘set up’ the story.  It’s only ten to twelve minutes long, remember? Rather, think of it as walking into the middle of the story; more like a scene…but in this case it must have a beginning, middle, and end, all in roughly ten-twelve minutes.

A ten minute play (or one act)  is 10-15 pages written in a proper format.  It can have costumes and sets, certainly, but ten minute plays are most popular because of their simplicity.   It’s more attractive to the director or educator, for economic reasons, if there are no sets, no costumes, and minimal props needed.

The ten minute play does not sacrifice excellent writing and content for brevity.  Less is more.  And it is a great exercise for the writer to hone and edit their writing skills.

The ideas for my plays come to me in a little kernel of truth and I am inspired. A state prison, a haunted lighthouse, my days in Hollywood, the news of the day or remembering the  stories of my childhood. 

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

So I thought what a perfect time to give my readers six tips on writing their first stage play.  After all, 45 play scripts ago and seventeen years earlier I began writing my first script.  And that led me to create five, custom Journals and Handbooks which include how to write a play and how to create exciting characters.


1.  Format is very important.  If you submit your new play to anyone they will not read it if it is not in a proper format. There is software out there that offer auto-format but I have found them lacking.  sample.playwrite.format  (here is a format sample)
Notice character name is in CAPS and centered. Blocking (action) is indented and always lower case and double-spaced.  If only one word, it is placed next to the character’s name and in parentheses.  A ‘beat’ is a dramatic pause or to enhance the pace of the speech.

2. Each page represents approximately one minute of time on stage depending on how complex you make the blocking. For a ten minute play your script should be from 10-15 pages. Each line (dialog) should move the story along…you’ve only got 10 minutes. So chose what your characters have to say very carefully. 

3.  Leave lots of white space.  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.  how to write a play, Trisha Sugaek, inspiration, An actor usually ‘highlights’ their lines and writes the director’s blocking in the margins.

4.  The blocking (in italics) is where you give the actors instructions on when and where to move.  But, keep it short and sweet.  Remember there will be a director who has their own ideas of where they will want their actors to be.  Be aware of costume changes in your writing.  An actor can’t exit stage left and enter stage right, seconds later in a different costume, if you haven’t written in the time it will take to give them the time 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 a ‘set’ change. 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.  There are some wonderful ‘envelope’ sets that 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. 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 is created via plot and character development. 

7.  Dialogue: Now here’s the 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 moving the story forward. You will notice that the format differs from the sample I provide. This example is from a published play so it looks different. 


Check out my  series of Journals/Handbooks.
To Purchase Playwright’s Journal

Choose from five custom, unique Covers.

Instruction on:   How To Begin 
How to Choose the Subject of your Play


Formatting your Play on the Page
How to write Dialogue
How to Create Rich, Exciting Characters
Story Arc
Stage Terminology
Sending out Your Script

How to write a ten minute play?  Click here
How To Format a Screenplay
How to Format Your Novel
How to Format a Stage Play 

PS. My web site is dedicated to helping new and experienced writers hone their craft.  If you have questions, drop me a line. I always love to hear from readers and promise to answer you.  T.S.

On Sale NOW!  Custom Journals/Handbooks for the Creative Writer 



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