Intro to Dramatic Writing

Dramatic writing focuses on creating scripts for performances in plays, films, TV, and radio. Dramatic writing is special for several reasons:

- It's collaborative. You write the script, and then other people—actors, directors, set and costume designers, etc.—bring your story to life.

- It's dialogue-driven. Scripts mostly consist of dialogue, what the characters say out loud.  

Unlike a novel, where the author might spend a lot of time describing things or showing the characters' thoughts, dramatic writing depends almost entirely on dialogue and action to tell a story.

If you often 'hear' conversations in your imagination, dramatic writing might come naturally to you!

- It has unique constraints. You have to shape the story to fit the medium. For example, most feature films are about two hours long, typically translating to about 120 screenplay pages, with one page approximately equaling one minute of screen time.

If you're writing for the theater, you have to consider the challenges that producing your script might entail. Including live tigers or a car chase on stage could be problematic!

What kind of dramatic writing is for you?

Playwriting offers more opportunities to see your work produced, versus screenwriting.

Even if you're just starting out, you might find local theaters, community groups, or schools interested in putting on your plays!

Theater's also less geographically concentrated than the film and TV industry. While it's easier to network and sell a screenplay or TV script if you live in LA, most cities have active theater communities.

On the other hand, screenwriting offers more flexibility in storytelling. Anything can be shown on the screen (large battle scene! alien invasion! rapid setting changes! significant closeups! cutting back and forth between two storylines!)

Screenwriting also potentially reaches a broader audience and can be very lucrative. However, selling a major screenplay or TV script is challenging, especially if you live somewhere other than LA.

theater marqueephoto credit: johrling @ Flickr

Tips for getting started

- Read lots of plays or screenplays, whichever you plan to write. The International Movie Script Database  (IMSDb) and SimplyScripts are two sources. Then watch productions of the scripts you’ve studied to see how the written words translate into live performance.

- Get involved in community theater to learn the realities of staging a dramatic production.

- Start writing! The only way learn the craft is through practice. In the beginning, try writing short scripts, which is less intimidating and will allow you to practice more styles and approaches.

- Join a writing class or writer's group for support, networking, and feedback.

- Learn standard formatting for your scripts. There are plenty of software applications that can help.

Dramatic writing articles

How to Write a Play.  How to get ideas, develop your play, and make sure it will actually work on the stage.

How to Write a Screenplay 1 - Getting Started. Tips on coming up with screenplay ideas and developing your hero(ine) and story.

How to Write a Screenplay 2 - Screenplay Structure. How many pages, how many acts, how many scenes, etc.

Free Screenwriting Software. It won't write your screenplay for you, but it will format it, make your coffee, and give you a relaxing massage (well, one out of three anyway).

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