How to Write a Script for a Play - Part 2
This is Part 2 of the CWN series on how to write a script for a play. Click here to go to Part 1 of the series. This is just one of many pages on this website with creative writing ideas and advice. At the bottom of the page, you'll find links to related pages on how to write a play or a screenplay.
How to write a script - Show the story in actions and speech
"A silent tear rolls down Cinderella's cheek as she pulls a long black hair off Charming's pillow. Thoughts of murder burn in her mind as she tosses the hair into the fireplace. Two years ago, when she caught the Prince behind the barn with a milkmaid, he promised that he would never stray again. She believed him then, but she won't be betrayed a second time."
Sure, but a theater audience can't see any of that.
What do they see? Cinderella leans over the pillow, then walks over to the fire and holds out her hand.
- They can't see the silent tear.
- They certainly can't see a single black hair.
- They don't know what thoughts or memories are in her head.
This isn't a movie, where the camera can zoom in. And this isn't a novel, where the narrator can describe the character's thoughts or fill in background information (some plays do have narrators, but I don't recommend using this option, which can seem old-fashioned nowadays).
Instead of a hair, we could have Cinderella find Petunia's nightgown. Not very subtle, but at least the audience could see it.
Or instead of crying silently, we could have her call the fairy godmother into the room and tell her about the hair. By turning Cinderella's discovery and thoughts into speech, we let the audience in on them.
As a playwright, your main tools are speech and actions (and by actions, I mean ones that the audience can see from the back of the theater). Is Prince Charming a nymphomaniac? Is Cinderella a ruthless social climber who will trample anyone in her path? Think about what words and actions will let the audience know. Is Cinderella becoming suspicious? Is Charming plotting to get rid of her? Show it with words and actions.
How to write a script - Pare it down
Should we give Cinderella's stepsisters a little part in the play? Bring in the Prince's friends? The royal army? Should we add a subplot with an attack on the palace from a neighboring kingdom?
Let's think twice before we complicate things too much. Instead, we should be trying to simplify, to pare things down.
If our play contains too many moving parts, it's going to be harder for us, the playwrights, to manage everything successfully. Having too many characters, costume changes, and scene changes can also make the play more expensive and difficult to produce.
How to write a script - Write and rewrite
Some writers spend months or even years developing ideas, jotting down notes, writing character profiles, brainstorming. They like to know where they're headed before beginning. Others write as a form of exploration, discovering the path as they go. Once they see where they end up, they start a second draft, and maybe more drafts, revising until they get it all right.
There is no single approach to writing that works for everyone. But some general advice:
- Read and watch lots of plays if you want to write them.
- Write regularly, even if you don't feel inspired. If you sit down every morning at eight o'clock to write, sooner or later, the inspiration will come. On the other hand, if you wait for inspiration before so much as picking up a pen, you might have a very long wait.
- Don't expect your first draft to be your final one. Things almost never come out perfectly on the first try. So don't be scared by the blank page. Write down something. Then come back and improve it. Reading your dialogue out loud will help you hear where revision is needed. Are there places that sound unnatural? Conversations that move too slowly? Parts that will be difficult for an actor to pronounce or an audience to understand?
If you are following the first piece of advice and reading a lot of plays, then you have a general idea of what a script looks like. But be aware that the formatting of published plays is a bit different from the formatting you should use for your script. You can find a detailed guide to script format on the playwright Jon Dorf's website, Playwriting 101.
Or, let a free software format it for you. Celtx includes a free editor for stage play scripts. Note that this is set by default to international format, but if you want American format, you can change the setting easily.
How to write a script - Further reading
For a complete introduction to writing a play, check out Louis E. Catron's book, The Elements of Playwriting.
You'll find resources and information for professional playwrights on the Dramatists Guild of America website.
How to write a script - next steps
Choose one of the links below:
Go back to Part 1 of this series on how to write a play
See a list of all CWN pages on how to write a play or screenplay
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