If you have ever aspired to add “playwright” to your list of accomplishments, you might wonder exactly how to go about writing your first play. Though they share many similarities with novels and short stories, plays are a unique form of written expression because the stage helps bring them to life in a way that paper simply can’t accomplish. But before you start crafting your theatrical masterpiece, you should first spend some time reading and watching a variety of plays. Full immersion in the world of theater and playwriting can help you generate some ideas and understand the elements required to create a successful play of your own.
Types of Plays
Not all plays are the same. The most common types of plays include 10-minute plays, one-act plays, full-length plays and musicals.
The 10-minute plays are popular because they are short but sweet. Many organizations hold contests seeking submissions of 10-minute play scripts for the possibility of production and performance. They can lead to great opportunities for novice playwrights to see their work brought to life on the stage. Do not allow the 10-minute limit to fool you. These plays still need to consist of a complete story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Due to their short duration, they are often shown along with several other 10-minute plays for a full evening of theatrical entertainment.
Ranging from 15 minutes to an hour or more, one-act plays are slightly longer than their 10-minute counterparts, with half an hour being the average length. As their name suggests, one-act plays consist of only one act that centers around one main conflict. One-act plays do not take up an entire evening and generally share the bill with two or more other one-act plays.
Full-length plays typically last for 70 minutes to no more than two hours. Depending on the complexity of the plot, full-length plays can have anywhere from two to four acts and do not share the theatrical bill with any other plays.
Musicals are plays in which many of the dramatic elements appear through songs and music. The length of musicals can range from as little as 10 minutes to as long as three hours, but the average and most desirable length lies somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours.
Writing a Play
No matter what type of play you decide to write, it will need to include certain elements like plot, conflict, setting, characters, dialogue and formatting.
Plot or Storyline
Consider what your play will be about. Come up with a good idea for the plot or storyline by brainstorming the series of events that you would like to see unfold in your play.
A story without a problem is not a story at all. Think of what struggles your characters will face and make those issues a central part of the overall plot.
The setting is where and when the story in your play takes place. For your first play, it is a good idea to keep the setting as simple as possible by limiting it to one room or a single place. You will avoid unnecessary set changes that can make the production of your play more complicated.
The characters are the heart and soul of any play. Start with no less than three but no more than eight characters. Make a list of your characters and come up with a detailed description for each one that includes name, age, physical appearance, personality traits, interests, motivations and other unique qualities. Each of your characters should want something or be in pursuit of some goal. The characters that you develop for your play should resonate with your readers and audience in some way. Whether your characters are loved or hated does not matter as long as they stir some type of reaction from the audience.
Dialogue, or what your characters say, is a crucial part of any play because it helps to move the plot forward and also reveals a great deal about what the characters are like and how they interact with each other. It is important for the way your characters speak to be believable, so create dialogue that sounds more like normal speech than a formal script.
Stage plays all adhere to one standard format. Since you never get a second chance to make a first impression, format your play according to professional standards. Standard stage play formatting helps producers or script readers determine the running time for your play and also makes it easier to identify all the different elements of your script.
How to Write a Play Synopsis
A good synopsis of your play is one that makes the reader want to read your play in its entirety. In one page or less, describe the setting, major characters and most important conflicts or events in your play along with some information about how you fix those conflicts. Avoid making your synopsis overly detailed. Less is more when it comes to a synopsis, but make sure that the synopsis includes the overall gist of the storyline for your play.
How to Produce a Play
Producing a play requires time, money, organizational skills and of course a love of theater. Consider the budget that you have to work with and manage it properly to avoid exceeding it. Once you figure out the finances, secure the right theatrical venue, cast actors to play each character’s role and run rehearsals. Finally, spread the word about your play through ticket sales and promotions that will help fill seats in the audience.
Kristina Barroso earned a B.A. in Psychology from Florida International University and works full-time as a classroom teacher in a public school. She teaches middle school English to a wide range of students from struggling readers to advanced and gifted populations. In her spare time, she loves writing articles about education for TheClassroom.com, WorkingMother and other education sites.