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
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 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
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‘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 Amazon.com B&N, and all fine book stores.
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
What Not to Do (when receiving a critique)
Takes the ‘scary’ out of writing!
DON’T MISS my with 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!