How to Write a Play – Amidst the short stories, series, novel scripts comes a beautiful category of stage plays. While most other forms remain as written works, turn into short films, movies, and non-live forms of art, stage plays turn into live acting.
Writing a play has its own hurdles to deal with. With the drama performed live with limited effects and characters to use, plays have strong constraints.
Be it using special effects – rain, magic, bombing, use of animals, you’ll have to think through all the roles in the play before penning down. And unlike most long writing forms – every dialogue and action matters!
Though it takes a little more than 6 steps counting post-writing edits, weeding out unnecessary lines, bringing in the climax of the play, begin with a simple draft. These 6 steps on how to write a play will brief you on an idea to design the drama.
Limits of Writing a Play
To the writers out there, be it book authors or screenwriters, stage play is different. Here are some limits of writing a play before you start:
- Time Constraint
- Character Development
- Actors’ behavior
Unlike any other forms of literary publishing, there’s no limit to the play’s length. Short stories and novels have a specific range, but stage plays don’t.
It all depends on how long you want your play to be. Keep in mind that the duration stretch is more important than the word count of your play.
The lesser of fiction in characters, the better it is for plays. Costumes cover witches, kings, elves, and even ghosts. But how about animals?
I wrote a play Pinggu, the Monkey months ago for a friend. While it turned out a great play for his project, the story revolved around a monkey, a tough character to bring in, let alone play!
Another sad limit of a play is the portrayal of character emotions. For a novel, digging deep into a character’s emotions is a privilege that writers have. Its readers have a gateway to touch the writer’s emotions on characters through words.
But in plays, the audience isn’t readers, they’re people sitting for live entertainment. Sitting in a distance, the characters’ facial expressions can’t afford to be seen by their audience.
Thus, it leaves stage plays with body gestures, background music, and lightings and less of visage emotions.
How to Write a Play in 6 Steps
Keeping constraints in mind, here’s how to write a play from its character leading to plot and scene changes.
Begin the Play with a Solid Introduction
As exciting it is to begin any story, make sure to bring in a solid feature of at least one key character. Be it the behavior, powers, or situation of a character, a firm initial tip in the story provides the audience with a hook to stay till the end.
Apart from giving away the audience something to stick to, it’ll help you develop your further story. In the intro, no matter what the situation or character does, it’s vague as to who’s the hero, villain, or guest role.
Lead your audience with the intro. The better the intro, the better chances of keeping your audience hooked till the end.
Create a Plot for the Play
It’s a story, after all, there’s no story without a plot, especially for plays – nothing to lead your readers after the intro. There can be beautiful stories where things just keep happening and finally end without a plot.
But the general audience has its expectations of a live show. The beauty of dramas is all the elements coming together along with the plot. Even if you’re plot isn’t strong, build strong emotions throughout the story.
The plot’s a train for your play, make sure the ride is fun all the way to its end! Now let’s get to bringing in the emotions.
Bring in Strong Emotions
You’ve got the plot ready, the next most essential element is the power of sentiments on your audience. Bring in shades of emotions in every part of the play.
Unlike novels and movies, there’s no thick descriptive parts or unnecessary stretch to be made in plays. Let every moment of your drama play a vital role – everything that adds up to entertain an audience and to the plot as well.
With the constraint on facial expressions, here are some effects to invoke and make the audience imbibe the sentiments of the storyline:
- Noticeable facial expressions of characters.
- Body gestures
- The tone of dialogues of the actors
- Music effects
- Lightings and smoke
While the music effects, lightings, and smoke are in hands of the theatre director, the writer (you) can elaborate on all the other effects while writing the stage play script.
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Build Interesting Characters
The stage’s ready for a play, it’s time to bring out your characters. Notice that the real world differs from a stage act – every key character is unique.
Be it a poor man, a cruel landlord, a beggar, a beautiful princess, a powerful wizard, or just a common person – plays bring out the uniqueness for all the feature characters.
One good example of the use of characters is Wizard of Oz. The powerful roles, the fun ones, the scary ones, all beautifully add up to the entertainment of people.
Character count: The number of characters is equally important. While keeping your stage juicy, don’t overcrowd the play with characters. For one, it’s difficult for everyone to accommodate small stages.
Two, people like it when there are many characters, but too many leads to confusion of roles and storyline. Keep the number moderate.
In case of too many characters, here’s what you can do:
- Weed out unnecessary characters that don’t add up to the final plot.
- Bring in a limited number of characters at every act. When a character enters over the limit, another character should be able to exit the stage.
- Use distinguished outfits for the roles. It helps the viewers’ delicate eyes to remember the characters more with colors, heights, and behaviors.
Focus on Character Dialogues’
Character dialogues are what make up most of the story in a play. It’s the reason why people sit in till the end. While the dialogue is the medium of communication in portraying the tale, make it fun with impressions.
One great way is for actors to weigh more emotions in their dialogues. The narrator (if any) changes tones for different acts in the drama. But as a writer, try to bring in a good impression with the dialogue script as well.
While traditional plays last more than an hour, short theatrical plays range from 10-30 minutes. Longer plays extend far out with musical narrations and dances, so dialogue values down.
But for the short plays around 10-15 minutes, it’s best to edit and craft to gut out the best impressions. The dialogues can be short and even non-existent to leave the audience a strong impression. The same goes for word count for short stories.
For example, in Pinggu, the Monkey – the play ends with Pinggu handing the cake to Shyamraj. It ends with no dialogue but still makes up for a strong impression.
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Structure your Stage Acts
Traditional plays used to follow the 3-stage acts. But plays have evolved over time and become more dynamic. But considering a play’s budget, time, and complexity, 2-5 acts is a good range.
Pick only the significant parts of a play to invest in. For instance, when a play takes part in a living room of a house, it isn’t necessary to structure the house.
Like sitcoms, let the background be of the living room and add some furniture like the seatings (sofas or chairs) and a table in the middle. That should be enough for a tight budget.
Of course, most of the budget details, requirements, and dynamic nature of the play all rely on the director and set designers. But as a writer, keep in mind of the limits that a play’s structure and acts have.
- Another article to read: How To Write a Great Plot Twist
Extra tip on How to Write a Play – Provide a detailed snippet
To the writers that aspire on submitting scripts to directors, make a snippet of the details of the play.
Here are some things to include in a stage play’s essential details:
- The number of characters required
- Structure and count of the Acts
- Estimated drama length
- Essential effects that are needed
- Set up details such as specific furniture
These are some details that’ll help the writer and the director to understand one another’s requirements and arrive at a clearer conclusion fast.
That concludes this piece on how to write a play. Writing a stage act differs from writer to writer, scenarios, and who you’re writing for. Since stage plays are stories portrayed on stage, take a good look at the audience.
Understanding the audience helps you focus on a specific set of people rather than the vast general public. These steps on how to write a play help form the outline of your play. Just like editing stories, plays need edits too – it’s best to go for edits when you’re on the practice set yourself.
Have more ideas in mind about plays? Comment below and we’ll discuss ;)
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