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Drama Writing ‘Tips’

I was asked to put together a few ‘tips’ for script writers as part of a promotional for InScribe’s Fall Contest. (More on that here.) I thought they’d make a good combined blog post, so here they are:

Tip #1: A PLAY IS NOT A MOVIE! (Unless it’s a screenplay…) This is the #1 mistake folks make when writing a script. Movies and stage plays are totally different. There are obvious limitations, especially if the play will be produced on a shoestring budget, so think about how the action will take place LIVE on stage, not as a movie.

Tip #2: Dialogue is everything in a play. The story needs to be told, but make sure that it does not become an information dump or too explanatory. Dialogue needs to sound natural while still informing the audience.

Tip #3: Each character should have their own unique way of speaking. ‘Listen’ to the way each one speaks and write dialogue that fits the character, the era, and the situation.

Tip #4: Always read your play out loud, preferably with another person, to check for flow and ease of enunciation. Tongue twisters can easily creep in and make an actor’s life difficult!

Tip #5: Do your main characters grow throughout the play? Change or growth is part of character development. Take the time to outline your characters’ beforehand. What is their overarching motivation? (What do they WANT more than anything else?)

Tip #6: A basic three part structure works best in plays – especially shorter pieces. Introduce the initial conflict, raise the stakes by bringing in complications, then resolve the issue. Voila! A three part play!

Tip #7: Dialogue really is everything! (Did I say that already?) Observations and discoveries must be turned into speech in order for the audience to ‘get it’. Important background information must be shared during conversations. Do not rely on an elaborate set to create your setting. Locations and setting must be part of the dialogue – BUT make it sound real.

Tip #8: ACTION! Actions must be ‘big enough’ for the audience to see and understand what just happened. (The stage is not the place for subtleties like a single tear rolling down a cheek.) Stunts and action scenes must be simple enough to work EVERY TIME! Breakaways, special effects, costume changes require timing that must be written into the script

Tip #9: Develop characters through: 1) Motivation: Write characters that want something which puts them in conflict with other characters. 2) High stakes: Each character should have something at stake – a consequence if he doesn’t get what he wants. 3) ‘Ticking clock’ – something that puts the characters under pressure to get what they want. 4) Make each character speak in a distinctive voice. If you have trouble with this, try imagining a specific actor – even if it’s someone who will never play the part.

Tip #10: Avoid too many directors’ notes. Allow the director/actors to make artistic decisions. Too many directions impedes the flow of the script and with a short submission you won’t want to use precious words on unnecessary directions like ‘He sits’ unless it is absolutely necessary that he sit!

Tip #11: Try ‘walking through’ your script – reading it while doing the actions. This is important to make sure that everything makes sense and is doable on stage.

Tip # 12: Keep all set and technical requirements to a minimum. Remember, it’s NOT a movie!

Tip #13: Formatting: Scripts should be typed in a simple font extra space between separate characters’ dialogue. (Double return) The character name comes BEFORE their dialogue. (Do not use quotation marks.) Make the character name stand apart from the dialogue using ALL CAPS, bold or BOTH. This just makes it easier to read. All stage directions, including entrances and exits, need to be set apart from the dialogue. Some publishers prefer parenthesis, others use < > around the directions. Generally speaking, stage directions should be italicized.

Tip #14: At the risk of becoming redundant… Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!: 1) Must sound authentic – for the character and for how people really converse. 2) Should not become a substitute for showing with actions when appropriate. 3) Must never become an information dump. 4) Should illuminate the characters. 5) Should advance the plot. Dialogue is everything!











  1. William Kendall says:

    Wise recommendations!

    1. tracykrauss says:

      Well, hopefully there is something of worth there!

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