Posted by on Mar 24, 2010 in Playwriting | 1 comment

Script Frenzy is coming up (the challenge to write a 30 day script in the month of April from the makers of NaNoWriMo) and you are thinking about writing a Stage Play. Whether you are a frequent playwright or stage performer or someone who doesn’t know when to spell it theatre and when to spell it theater, here are some tips to get you started.

  • Learn about the format and its history. Before you try to write a stage play, make sure you know enough about the format to take this challenge on. A good starting place is the Intro to Playwriting article from Script Frenzy but expand your search to the rest of the internet. You certainly don’t need to sign up for the local college’s Drama 101 but at least a few minutes of research on the history of drama will put you in a better place to get started. You want to have an understanding of the format and it’s historical context.
  • Read as many plays as you can. There is no better way to get a feel for the format than to read some plays. You can take a look online at Internet Movie Script Database or just take a few out of the library. I highly recommend the Best Plays of series of books because not only will they contain many examples of excellent scripts, they are also usually short plays so you can read many different plays in a short time. Most anthologies will give you a good cross section. It almost doesn’t matter what year you read, the format hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. But understand that a Shakespeare play or something very old is going to be very different than the plays of today in tone as well as format.
  • Watch a play, preferably one you’ve also read. There is no substitute for seeing the words come to life on stage. If there is a play that you saw live, seek out the script and read it. If you’ve read a script, see if there is a filmed version of the stage play (a movie adaptation doesn’t count unless you know its incredibly faithful to the original script and most aren’t). This will help you see how the written words translate into the final product. 
  • Outline scenes and make notes to yourself. This is the sort of prep work you are likely used to no matter what you write. Jot yourself down notes about your characters and setting or outline whole scenes. No matter how involved (or simple) you want to keep your prep work, doing at least some work ahead of time can make all the difference when you actually start writing your script.

You’ll notice my guide above doesn’t say anything about formatting. That’s because I think getting hung up on formatting is only going to mess you up in the writing stage. Write the script first and then worry about how to format it later in editing. If you would prefer to ignore my advice, here is Script Frenzy’s How to Format A Stage Play. But unless formatting a play is second nature to you, I would recommend not getting hung up on formatting during the writing process.

Have additional suggestions for aspiring theatre writers? Share them in the comments below!