How to write a play (with pictures)

How to write a play (with pictures)
How to write a play (with pictures)

A play involves drama and action in their purest form. You then have to work on the characters and their way of expressing themselves. If you want to join the club of Molière, Beaumarchais and Shakespeare, you have to develop an exciting story with iconic characters made to be performed on a theater stage. Hopefully, you may have the satisfaction of seeing your play performed in a large theater.


Part 1 of 3: Developing the story

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Step 1. Start with the characters

The plays are works of writing carried out by their characters. Since the play will involve a lot of dialogue, your characters should be as believable as possible. In large plays, the tension that builds up between the characters is expressed externally. In other words, the characters must have issues that show in their behavior.

  • What does your character want? What's the one thing that keeps your character from getting what they want? What are the obstacles that stand in front of him?
  • You might be able to develop a character by thinking of interesting work. What's the hardest job you can think of? What is the job that has always made you curious? What kind of person is podiatrist? How do you come to do this job?
  • Don't worry about your character's name or physical description. You won't know more about this character knowing that his name is George, that he is 1.70 m tall, that he has chocolate bar abs and that he sometimes wears t-shirts.. Stick to a single, easily identifiable physical trait. Your character might have a scar on their eyebrow from being bitten by a dog or they might never wear a t-shirt. It reveals a bit of their personality and gives them depth.
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Step 2. Think about the frame

The frame of the play indicates where and when the action is taking place. Placing your character in a tense situation is a great way to create drama. By combining the character with the situation, you can also develop the character and imagine the story that brought the character to this situation. If being a chiropodist is what interests you first, ask yourself what it can be like to be a chiropodist in the countryside, for example. How do we get there?

  • Be as specific as possible when developing the framework. Modern times is not as interesting as Dr Robert Petit, chiropodist, in front of the church of Plougarnec, at 3 pm.
  • Also think about the other characters that the setting will introduce. Who works at the reception of the podiatrist's office? If it's a family practice, maybe his daughter. Who has a date on Friday? Who's waiting ? Why did they come?
  • Take the odds into consideration. If your story takes place in the future, think about what the world will be like at that time.
  • If the story takes place in a forest, take the time to bring that forest to life.
  • Explain the reasons why the decor has a special appearance. For example, a tornado may have ravaged the forest which is now chaos.
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Step 3. Imagine the internal story

The internal story is used to describe the psychological conflicts that each character feels. This part is largely obscured throughout the entire play, but it's important that you know what's going on as a writer to make the play meaningful. The more concrete the internal story, the easier it will be for you to write about your characters. They will be able to make their own decisions.

Maybe your podiatrist wanted to be a brain surgeon, but he didn't have enough courage. Perhaps podiatry classes had the least constraining schedules which allowed the student version of your character to go to bed late and party all night long instead of exhausting themselves studying. Maybe your podiatrist is deeply sad and regrets never having left Plougarnec

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Step 4. Match the internal story with the external story

Bad storylines look to the past while good storylines look to the future. It wouldn't be interesting to have an intrigue in which your podiatrist talks endlessly about his desire not to be a podiatrist and to kill himself in shoe polish. Instead, find a dramatic situation that you can place your characters in that will challenge their courage and change them in some way.

  • If it's Easter Monday, your podiatrist's parents may be coming to dinner (themselves retired podiatrists). Is your podiatrist a religious person anyway? Will he go to church? Does he have to come home to do the housework before his parents arrive? Is his father going Again ask him to check his onions at the foot? Is this going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back?
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Step 5. Realize that the stage is a space that has its limits

Remember, you are not writing a script for a movie. A play is in fact just an exchange of conversations between several characters. The play should focus on the tension that exists between the characters, on the language used, and on developing your characters into believable human beings. It is not a suitable setting for gunshots and car chases.

Alternatively, you can also move away from traditional theater and write a play with impossible scenes, as a way to explore the writing itself. If you don't want to stage the play, treat it as a different form of poetry. Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett and Antonin Artaud were innovators of avant-garde experimental plays that incorporated audience participation and other absurd or surreal elements into the drama of the play

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Step 6. Read some dramatic plays and attend performances

Just as you wouldn't try to write a novel before you've read one, it's best to familiarize yourself with the world of contemporary theater. Go see plays you've read and liked to see what they look like when staged. David Mamet, Tony Kushner and Polly Stenham are famous and acclaimed playwrights.

It is important to attend modern plays if you want to write modern plays. Even if you are a Molière expert, it is important to familiarize yourself with contemporary theater life. You don't live in Molière's time, so it wouldn't make a lot of sense to write plays as if they were true

Part 2 of 3: write drafts

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Step 1. Write an exploration draft

Even if your plan to write: "Easter Monday at the podiatrist" seems to be on the right track to get you a Molière, you still manage to surprise yourself sometimes while writing. You can have the best ideas in the world, you always have to put them down on paper and let a little surprise creep in.

  • In the exploration draft, don't worry about formatting the piece or writing correctly, write down whatever comes to mind. Write until you have a feel for the start, middle, and end of your piece.
  • There may be adventures that will change everything for your character. Let the events happen.
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Step 2. Try to keep the room as short as possible

A play is literally a slice of life, it is not a biography. While it may be tempting to jump ten years into the future to see the main character quit his job as a chiropodist and become a successful writer in Paris, a play isn't the best way for this genre. drastic changes in a character's life.

Your play might end with a simple decision or with a confrontation between your main character and something he has never faced before. If your play ends with the suicide of your podiatrist or other character, rethink it

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Step 3. You must always move forward

In the first few drafts, you're probably going to write a lot of scenes that don't really go somewhere. This is not a problem. Sometimes you have to let the character have a long, weird dinner conversation with his brother-in-law to learn something that gives you a whole new perspective on the drama. Perfect ! That means you're doing well, but that doesn't mean the entire dinner scene is important to keep for the play.

  • Avoid scenes in which the characters find themselves alone. Nothing can happen on stage with a character who finds himself alone in the bathroom looking at himself in the mirror.
  • Avoid making the preamble too long. If the podiatrist's parents have to arrive any minute, don't make it last for twenty pages. Get them involved as quickly as possible to have a theme to work on. Make it easy for yourself.
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Step 4. Think about the voices of the characters

Your characters will reveal themselves through their ways of speaking. How they say things may even be more important than what they say.

  • When the podiatrist's daughter asks him, “What's wrong? », The way in which the podiatrist will answer him will allow the public to understand how to interpret the conflict. Maybe he rolls his eyes in an exaggerated way and sighs, “Everything! Before throwing a pile of documents in the air to make his daughter laugh. But the public is well aware that something is going on and that they are trying to hide it. The audience will then see the character in a different way than if they just said, "Nothing, go back to work." "
  • Don't let the characters express what is bothering them. A character should never exclaim, "I am nothing since my wife left me!" Or anything else that might reveal the internal elements he is fighting against. Make them keep their secrets. You want these secrets reflected in their actions, they shouldn't be forced to explain themselves to the public so they can figure out what's going on.
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Step 5. Rewrite

The writer's motto? "Kill your favorites". You have to be a ruthless critic on your first drafts so that the shapeless broth of ideas at the start becomes the realistic piece that holds together you want to write. Cut out the scenes that go round in circles, remove the characters that are useless, and make the room as tight and short as possible.

Go back to your drafts with a pencil and marker and circle all the moments in the play that pause the action flow and underline the moments that move the play forward. Remove everything that is surrounded. Even if you need to take 90% of what you've written, do it. Fill the holes with things that move the room forward

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Step 6. Write as many drafts as needed

There is no limit on the number of drafts. Keep writing until the play feels like it's finished, until you like what you're reading and it fulfills your expectations of the story.

Keep each version of the draft so you feel free to take risks and be able to roll back to the previous version if the new one didn't work. Word files don't take up a lot of space, it's totally worth it

Part 3 of 3: shape the room

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Step 1. Divide the plot into scene and action

An act is a miniature piece made up of several scenes. An average piece contains between 3 and 5 acts. Typically, a scene will feature a number of characters. If you introduce a new character or if one of your characters leaves, it indicates that you need to change scene.

  • It is difficult to differentiate the acts. For example, in the history of the podiatrist, the first act could end with the arrival of parents and the introduction of the main conflict. The second act could stage the progression of this conflict, including the scenes in which the podiatrist's parents argue with her daughter, Easter Monday dinner is being prepared, and when they meet at church. In the third act, the girl could reconcile with her father and fix the situation. Then curtain.
  • The more experience you have in writing plays, the easier it will be for you to think of the play in terms of scenes and acts from the start. Don't worry about it when you are starting out. Formatting the part is less important than consistent and logical action.
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Step 2. Include the walkthroughs

Each scene should start with walkthroughs, in which you quickly describe the physical elements present in the scene. Depending on your story, they can be very elaborate or very simple. This is the time chosen to influence the way the piece will be represented. If it is important to have a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, write it down in the directions.

Also include step-by-step instructions for the actors in the dialogues. The actors will take their personal freedom with the dialogues and they will move in the way they want or by following the director's instructions. However, it can be helpful to give clues about significant movement in the scene through dialogue. It is for example important to note a kiss, but do not put too many indications. You don't need to accurately describe every minute of the scene, as the actors will ignore these cues anyway

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Step 3. Mark the dialogues for each character

In a play, each dialogue of each character is marked with their name in capital letters and the rest of the text is indented. Some playwrights will center the dialogue, but you choose. There is no need to use quotes or other forms of punctuation, just separate the different parts of the dialogue by noting the name of the character speaking them.

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Step 4. Write the introductory pages

They will give hints on which prologue you would like to add, a list and short description of the characters, notes about the staging or other guidelines, and maybe even a concise summary of the play if you plan to do so. 'send it to theater competitions.


  • Do not imagine the characters before writing the play. As you write, you will know when which character is needed and what to do.
  • Allow time between scenes for a change of scenery and for the actors to fall into place.
  • Don't worry about the names, you can always change them later.
  • If the play isn't a comedy, pay attention to the fun elements. People get upset more easily when they watch plays that are not comedies. If it's a comedy, you have a wider choice of topics you can cover. But do not write anything too heavy, for example no jokes, racist, sexist, no profanity in the mouths of children. It only works in movies, and over and over again. Maybe a few jokes about religion, but some people might take them wrong.
  • You can write down moments when people enter the audience. This works most often for musicals, but if you want to do it, don't overdo it.
  • Be creative.
  • Think about the actors you can hire, this will make casting easier.
  • Plan to audition multiple people for each role. If one actor doesn't really match the character, you can choose another one.

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