5 Things Every Playwright Needs To Know

Okay, so I’ve been at this playwriting shtick for almost a year now, and although that’s nothing in the long run, I’ve learnt a lot of things. In my first year or writing, I’ve written over 10 scripts, and I learn something new each time. Maybe not eye opening revelations, but stuff that helps in a little way, and when you add it all up, it does make a significant difference. Just because I haven’t been doing it for a long time doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say. You can take this advice or leave it, but everything here has helped me become a better playwright.

  1. Write what you know (and if you don’t know, research it!)

This one seems pretty obvious, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve been stumped halfway through my development process because I simply didn’t know what the heck I was writing about. I had really wanted to write a drama about police detectives, but apart from TV shows, I didn’t know jack about the profession. When you hear about writers who travel the world for knowledge, or actors that live in squalor to practice being a hobo, they’re not that pretentious. I guess that’s why sci-fi and supernatural are quite popular concepts I keep going back to, because you can just make stuff up! Writing what you know also forces you to look at yourself and your life, trying to gleam interesting parts of it to present to people. Also, you won’t get anyone calling you out on things you got wrong, so that’s a plus.

  1. Don’t add filler

This is probably the biggest rule that I stick to. If you truly want your play to shine, do not add any filler. No extra plotlines that go anywhere, no unnecessary characters, no rambling monologues. Every piece of dialogue needs to grab the audience’s attention, every plotline has to be relevant to the play, and every character needs to justify their existence. What is or is not filler is a very thin line. Does this event help develop the character? Does the plotline progress the story, character and plot wise? Then it’s not filler. However, if you’re just trying to create witty dialogue and random plot points to show off, then that is filler.

However, the biggest reason for filler to exist in many scripts is to lengthen out the story. It’s an outrageously silly thing to do, and if you’re adding plot points and monologues just so that increases the length, then go back, strip it all out and start again. A play is however long it needs to be. If you want to lengthen it (and you really shouldn’t want to) then come up with scenarios that help develop your character, progress the plot, and at the very least hold the audience’s attention. Many of my scripts are relatively short, because I feel that I have said all there is to say about the characters and story. You need to be more comfortable about the length of your scripts, and confident that length is not a defining factor in the quality of a script.

3. Be practical

This might not apply if you just like creating stories a scripts for fun, but if you’re serious about seeing your stories on stage, you must be 100% practical and aware of the stage throughout your whole play.

It’s no good asking patrons to help put on your ultra-amazing space epic, because, amazing as it may be, no one has the time and money to invest in such a venture. Most playwrights will perform their work in a small space. My first script was actually performed in a black box studio, a small rectangular room with a modest lighting and sound system. You will not be able to afford extravagant costumes, you will not be able to get 20 actors in a small space, and you will not be able to pull off a giant metal dragon flying around breathing fire. Write practically, modestly and most of all creatively. Task yourself with setting every play in a square, and what settings would make it more interesting for the audience. Save the space odyssey for when you’re famous and can get away with the budget costs.

4.  Stage directions are your friend

One of the biggest flaws I had was that I had barely any stage directions. This was because I was always under the assumption that I was going to be the one who directed, therefore I had it all figured out in my head already. I knew what my characters wanted to say and how they’d say it. I knew what lighting cues would happen and what music would play. Out of the whole development of the script, I put the least effort into stage directions, only adding them when I needed to.

That’s all well and good if you want only yourself to be the director of your plays. However, if you want others to take a look at your work, then for the love of God put in stage directions, especially if you feel very strongly on how your script should be interpreted. If you want a specific piece of music to play, put that in the stage directions, not just “Sad music plays”. Obviously, it can be an artistic choice whether you want ironclad stage directions, or no directions at all, but generally you should give stage directions as much respect as your dialogue. To an actor or director, it is the playwright telling them specifically what to do. Stage directions are your friend.

5. Do not be modest when sending your scripts

Send your scripts everywhere you can. Submit them to every competition, submit them on your blog, and show them to nearby drama groups. Many famous theatre companies accept unsolicited scripts, so send them there. Just make sure that you adhere to their rules about submissions. You may not hear back for months, but when you do, I promise you, it’s worth it. Don’t be modest about your scripts, don’t say that they “might” want to have a look, that they “might” enjoy it. Be confident that people want to look at your scripts, and you will go far when it comes to setting up relationships with companies. Even if they reject your first script, you’ll be in their minds, so that when next year, when you send in an all-improved masterpiece, they’ll take notice.

London Theatres that accept
unsolicited scripts:

Regional Theatres that accept
unsolicited scripts:

Touring companies that accept
unsolicited scripts:

So that’s all the advice I have to offer at the moment. Like all playwrights, I’m still learning my craft. You’ll probably find a lot more things out on your own, through experiences and various trial and error. One thing is ironclad though: Never give up. You have so much potential, so pour it onto a page, print it off and show it to all that are willing to hear!