Has your child been bitten by the drama bug and thinks he's ready for Broadway? Many kids in middle or high school have seen and read some plays and maybe even acted in productions. A budding writer may also want to try his own hand at playwriting. Here are some basic playwriting tips.
Start with an Idea. Find an idea for the basis of a play, usually with a plot and storyline that involves a series of events. A play can be about something that really happened or something fictional. Anything from a news story to a photograph to an interesting person might spark an idea. Lots of good first plays are short, around 8-10 pages.
Determine the Conflict. Think of a conflict, or a main problem that the characters face, which will be central to the plot, to make it more dramatic. A play’s plot usually proceeds in the following way: (1) the beginning describes the characters and conflict, (2) characters try to solve the problem, creating the rising action, (3) their action leads to a climax, or turning point, and (4) falling action leads to a resolution that sums up how things end. For an exercise in structure, have children write a one act play with four scenes, using the numbered list above as an outline.
Setting. The setting of a play is where it takes place. This could be a historical era, a foreign country, a single room or even inside a vacuum. Scene changes are a good time for characters to switch locations.
Characters. A writer’s first play should probably have somewhere between three and eight characters. Each character wants something and has a goal or objective. Kids can list each character and give detailed descriptions for each one, including their name, age, physical appearance, personality, hobbies and interests, fears, secrets, abilities, motivations, occupation and relation to other characters. Even if the characters are animals or inanimate objects, they’ll still have unique qualities.
Dialogue. A play is nothing without dialogue, the conversations characters have! Dialogue should move the story forward and reveal the characters’ relationships to each other, and also show their moods and personalities. Dialogue should sound believable and real—there can be pauses and contractions, just like in everyday speech. It helps to study real-life conversations and practice reading dialogue aloud to see how it sounds.
Format. Using the correct playwriting format helps put all these aspects together in an understandable way. An example of playwriting format follows below. Note that when writing character descriptions, the more detailed they are, the more depth actors can give to their performance.
THE SNOW DAY
By Elise Williams
Cast of Characters:
SUSAN, a friendly, 30-something mother
JANE, her 13 year old daughter
CHLOE, Jane’s best friend, also 13 years old
SAM, Susan’s husband and Jane’s father, worried about work
JOE, a 13 year old neighbor of Jane, sometimes teases her
The play takes place in a suburb of Boston during a particularly snowy day when schools are unexpectedly closed.
Stage Directions are messages in parentheses, aligned to the right margin, from the playwright to the actors and crew telling them what to do and how to do it. They should be brief, and written in the present tense. They describe action and visuals, not inner thoughts. Character names are written in ALL CAPS. For example:
(Early morning, snow falling. Sidewalk in front of a suburban house. JANE appears in front of the house bundled up for winter weather and wearing a backpack. SUSAN comes out of the house and runs to catch JANE.)
Jane, wait! The radio just announced that your school is closed today because of snow!
Really? You’re not just teasing me, are you? Do I really get a snow day?
(CHLOE enters, also wearing a backpack, and walks over towards JANE.)
Hi Jane, what’s going on? Aren’t we walking to school together today?
Conclusion: Notice in the format above that the character’s names are ALL CAPS, bolded, and centered just before each character’s line of dialogue. Stage directions are at the beginning of a scene and anywhere else where action, props, or descriptions need to be explained for the cast and crew.
If a child writes four scenes in the format above, using the plot structure described above, bravo! He has written his first play!