Introduction to Playwriting

Penmancy posted under Writing Tips on 2019-04-08

When we introduced an event for playwriting this month, we all got cold feet. It was natural for all of us to feel this way because we were attempting this for the very first time. And just like first love, a bit of anxiety feels like heavy palpitation.

Playwriting is an exciting form of creative writing that has the ability to hook the reader till the very end word. To be able to write such a script, one must keep certain essentials in mind that are peculiar to play-writing. Where are the ideas for play coming from? What is the voice of the writer? Does his voice interfere with his characters or his characters have their own identity? How to create characters? What dialogues to write to grab the readers/audience’ attention? Where to begin the play? How to develop the storyline and create a climax? How to conclude the play in a memorable manner?

Developing the idea

Have a story. That is basic. Build your characters around it. You may want to start with a storyboard that includes your protagonist, antagonist, conflict and the arc or the storyline. Establish an inciting incident or an event that introduces the protagonist and steers the plot. If possible, have a backstory or a revelation of a backstory (perhaps through dialogues).

Next line up the actions of the characters and their journey. The final conflict between your protagonist and the antagonist results in the resolution

Protagonist- the one who drives the play, has the ability to resolve and can create drama
Character 1- could be an aid to the protagonist, who has their sympathy
Character 2- could be a cause of conflict
Antagonist- the one who opposes the protagonist and creates tension. Also, the one who the protagonist confronts

The play takes place in the marketplace, the protagonist’s home or office.

The protagonist has been holding on to long-drawn suffering and needs to find a way to vent it. Based on his previous experiences, he needs an aid to resolve it.

Draw your characters

The characters must be as close to real people around you. Make them believable and realistic so that they stay true to your script.

Creating a mini-biography of all your characters is ideal. Include their gender, their kith and kin, education, relationships, ethnicity, the effect of politics, religious beliefs, etc. Draft your characters to have their own identity.

DIANA -Female, 40s/50s, Philosophy professor – sees everything as black and white.
PETER -Male, 25s/30s, graduate student -questions everything before believing

Voice of your characters

Playwriting relies heavily on dialogues. They are the primary and most important components in playwriting. The dialogues must steer the action in the play through a natural conversation where the characters’ intentions, motives, frustrations etc. must come through.

Some of the points to consider are:

  • Important information can be repeated three times in different ways for the audience to takeaway.
  • People don’t speak perfect English so make the dialogues sound conversational with realistic speech patterns. Characters may speak in broken English, just make sure that it is consistent throughout.
  • Clichés or overused dialogues must be avoided


“Wait! I can explain! This isn’t what it looks like.” or
“How is she?”
“She’ll live.”

  • Overuse of character names in dialogue kills the interest of the audience. As a general rule, direct address is used only:
  1. At the beginning of a conversation
  2. When trying to get someone’s attention
  3. When trying to emphasize a point

     Use pronouns to replace people’s names.

  • Dialogues must find continuation, one from another but a repetition of the dialogue must be avoided.
  • Long speeches in dialogue must be avoided. Try using speech the way real conversations happen.
  • The theme of the play must be shown in actions or events rather than dialogues.
  • If your character has an accent, bring it out in the dialogue.

Begin your play

Set the tone of your voice right in the beginning to grab attention. Some points to consider:

  • The opening scenario must be such that leads to the inciting incident. It must seize the interest of the readers/audience right away. Otherwise, you’ll have readers yawning or audience leaving the theater.
  • Launch the inciting incident early on for your protagonist to get into motion. If your character (a doctor) is going to break a bad news to his patient, think of the best dialogue you can come up with.
  • The protagonist’s goal must be important, urgent and clear for the audience to relate to it. If your protagonist has a few months to live, how will he spend those months? Set events that would show the things he wants to do before he dies. Does he sulk and wait? Does he go on an adventure?
  • The battle between the protagonist and antagonist must sound earnest with a clear victory in sight.
  • When necessary, get the backstory in through dialogue or action.

End your play

The end of the play is as important to leave a lasting impression. Happy or sad, the ending must be truthful, plausible or inevitable.

Some helpful tips are:

  • Obstacles must sound tougher and tougher as the story progresses.
  • A clear cause and effect relation must be produced.
  • A final showdown between the protagonist and antagonist is the best bet.
  • Justify your conclusion through an event that ends the story.
  • Never introduce a sudden premise or character towards the end. That is a lazy conclusion that makes the audience feels cheated.
  • Tie up the unresolved strands of your story in the end. This lets the audience revisit some of the actions during the play and bring them home.

Hope these simple points are able to give you a kick start! Good luck.