Tips on Playwriting

“All screenplays are scripts, but not all scripts are screenplays.”

What does this mean? To clarify, screenplays and scripts involve written texts. A screenplay, as the name indicates, is a piece of writing written to be played on a screen -movie, television or computer screen. And writers who write screenplays are called screenwriters. But a script may also apply to a stage play, a video game, a radio program or computer programming script. Both terms usually mean the same thing and are interchangeable. You just need to know the medium your story is for. Is it for a movie, a TV show, or a stage play?

In this article, we will talk about a script written for the stage. First of all, how to start?

1. Have a plot

All flash fictions, short stories, novels, stage plays, or movies have a plot. It plays an important part in the success of your story. Consider it as the backbone of your work. No plot, no story to tell. So make sure your plot is strong; otherwise, your story will collapse. If you’re submitting it to a publisher, it will go to the bin directly.

What is a plot?

A plot consists of the main events of a play, novel, film, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence. If your plot consists of a man and woman falling in love, your story should involve events leading to your characters “falling in love”. Questions like what, where, when, why, and how will help you lay out descriptions and actions that would give your plot a strong foundation. Add a conflict in between these events, but make sure that they are coherent and logical. If the scenes occur as flashbacks, see to it that all events are interconnected with each other and form a logical whole in the end.

2. Give your characters personality.

If your two characters love each other, what qualities do they see in each other? Don’t stop at using descriptive words like tall, good-looking, kind, generous, smart, hardworking, etc. Include the ‘show, don’t tell technique’ in writing.

If your character is a drunkard, show him holding a bottle of rum or show how he talks (does he talk incoherently, does he keep saying the same things again and again, etc.) or walks (does he sway or bump into things, etc.) If your character is a great detective, show the manner in which he solves cases. Otherwise, he will not appear great to the reader.

In a stage play, the personality of your character is shown through dialogues. If your character is witty, make sure to show his wit in a dialogue.

Example:

KIMBERLY: Hey, Elle! What do you think about television?

ELLE: I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

3. Picture out events for your plot and make an outline.

Events are actions going on in the story. They are what make your story move. Without these events, your story would be boring. Outline them. Identify what event occurs when, where, why, and who is in that event.

Let us take Beryl Zephyr’s story The Homecoming as an example. The plot is simple. A lonesome Mr Mole meets an old hobo Mr Dog and decides to become a hobo himself. Here, the events are well-laid out.

  • Mr Mole meets Mr Dog
  • Mr Mole spends a night in a potato field
  • Mr Mole encounters children going to school
  • Mr Mole looks for food in a bakery
  • Mr Mole meets a homeless tramp on the street
  • Mr Mole rides in a taxi and gets robbed
  • Mr Mole rescues a drowning kitten

These events are shown to give your characters personality. Lay-outing them helps you write your story quickly and smoothly. Most importantly, you can create interesting dialogues based on these events. If there is a word count restriction while writing a play, estimate the words required for each event to avoid exceeding the word limit.

4. Make your dialogues interesting.

Dialogues are extremely important in a story, whether it is a short story, a novel, a movie, or a TV program. They help readers identify with the characters. Since there are only dialogues in a play, with occasional brief descriptions of the actions involved, make sure they stand out. The exchange of conversation in a play is what makes viewers want to see your play. It is important to ‘show’ your actors’ character. Taking Mr Mole and the baker’s dialogue scene:

BAKER: “G’day, sir! What will you have today?”

MR MOLE: “I’ll have this one, please.”
(Pointing a finger at the brown cookies)

BAKER: “That will be two pounds an ounce, sir. How much shall I pack?”

MR MOLE: “Two pounds? An ounce? What’s that?”
(Scratching his head.)

BAKER: “Is that a joke, sir? No dough, no chow! Now move on, sir. You’re coming in the way of our regulars.”

Without ‘telling’ that Mr Mole is an innocent creature and doesn’t know the ways of humans (ex. anything about money), Beryl Zephyr has also shown the pragmatic and harsh nature of the baker at the same time.

Can you make out the importance of dialogues now?

Take note: Depending on what kind of characters you have, they need not speak perfect English. They can have accent. They may talk in broken English. Just make sure that they are intelligible. Remember, dialogues are the players in plays.

5. Map out the conflict in your story.

Conflict is the crux of any good story. It doesn’t need to be complicated. What matters are the events leading to resolving it. If your character wants something, what things does he need to do to achieve it? Elaborate the struggles that he needs to overcome. Who are the other characters (hurdles) that prevent him from achieving that something?

6. Make sure all loose ends get tied up in the end.

End your play in such a way that the events you have shown satisfy the viewers. If your story has loose ends that readers struggle to tie together, chances are high that your story will fail. All questions need not be answered, but if you end the story with a question, make sure that it makes sense given the background of your story.

A play is just a story in dialogues. Write them as interesting and captivating as possible to provide your readers/audience satisfaction.

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Penmancy

~a coven of creative characters~

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