Start Writing a Play


You've got a great idea for a story, and you want to start writing a play. Playwriting is an exciting yet challenging venture. If you would like to make money from your play, you will need to follow some strict guidelines and formats.

How to Start Writing a Play

A successful play combines a number of important factors. These include:

  • Story line
  • Characterization
  • Dialogue
  • Stage directions
  • Formatting

Story Line

Before you start writing a play, think about your story. Will this really be interesting to a large number of people? Keep in mind that various versions of most stories have already been told. Successful plays tells their their story in a unique and engaging manner.A good story revolves around a conflict, which should build as the play progresses. However, unlike the novelist, who has hundreds of pages to develop a plot, the play write has a limited to develop and resolve a conflict. As such, many playwrights use a dramatic device known as the "ticking clock," which is an event in the near future which will require a fast conflict resolution. Here is a common story line structure for playwriting:

  • Initial action: The first event in your play
  • Rising action: Your characters develop and the plot thickens
  • Turning Point: A significant event when a decisive change occurs
  • Climax: The highest point of emotional tension
  • Falling action: Loose ends are tied up
  • Resolution: The event that ends your story


Your characterization can make or break a play. Unlike the cinema, a play has limited special effects and visual distractions. As such, creating interesting and realistic characters is crucial to success. Give your characters histories that would explain their motivations for their actions. Think about how they dress and move. What are their hobbies? What do they like to eat? Where have they lived for most of their lives? Do they like to travel, or are they homebodies? Here's an example.

Larry Shue's The Foreigner takes place in a backwoods town in Georgia. Betty is the owner of a small inn. She has never been out of her tiny hometown, but is fascinated by stories about the world at large. British Staff Sergeant Froggy LeSueur brings his friend Charlie Baker to the inn. Charlie is pathologically shy, and does not want to engage in conversation. As such, Froggy tells Betty that Charlie is from some unnamed foreign country. Charlie decides to make up some sort of gibberish language as his native tongue. Betty believes his story. The Foreigner is a satire, which requires you to suspend disbelief. However, based on Betty's sheltered background, the audience can accept her gullibility.


Forget Associated Press guidelines. Ignore rules about not starting a sentence with "but." Real people end their sentences with prepositions. People in conversations usually interrupt each other, so sentences are rarely complete. Study the specific slang and dialect that would be typical of your character, and ignore the red-lined spelling corrections of your word processor.Remember that talk is often cheap. Try to "show" rather than tell. For example, instead of having Carol say "I'm scared," have her hide under the bed. Her actions will speak louder than her words, which brings us to the subject of stage directions.

Stage Directions

Stage directions are a controversial issue. While they are an important element of any play, play writers are often advised to avoid directing their characters. The actors and directors will want to play with the characters actions, which may change according to the set and the space on the stage. As such, your stage directions can be used as a guideline, but they may change if your play is produced.

Formatting a Play

Even the best play will not be accepted if the structure and format are incorrect. You will need to decide whether you want to write a one-act or a full-length play. One act plays are shorter, and are often placed on the same bill with other one-act plays. They should require minimal set changes. Full-length plays consist of two acts, with two or three scene changes. Keep in mind that scene changes require set changes. If you put in too many changes, most theater companies will not be able to afford to produce your play.

In general, scene headings are placed in the left margin. They are written in all caps and underlined. Stage directions are centered on the page. They are usually written in italics. The character names are centered on their own line and in uppercase. The lines of dialogue are aligned to the left , and written beneath the character names. Many play writers use a specialized software, such as Final Draft.

Aspiring playwrights need patience, perseverance and the ability to accept harsh criticism. However, the rewards are well worth the effort.

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