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29 October 2014

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Tips for Playwriting

Chris Scott
Handy tips on how to write a script by local playwrite Chris Scott.

Playwrite isn't only about asking you to come up with a play to be performed on stage - it's also about helping you write it in the first place!

We know how difficult it can be for first time writers to take the germ of an idea and transform it into a written play - so we asked a Wiltshire expert for some advice.

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Chris Scott is a lecturer in Performing Arts at Swindon's New College. He's been writing plays for years, including the college Pantos!

He's been kind enough to let us have his top tips for writing a winning play!


It’s a complicated business but the major points are:

CONTENT – What to write

1. A Story

Playwriting is Storytelling.  It must tell a fascinating tale which constantly makes the audience want to know ‘what happens next’.
By the end of page two if readers aren’t asking ‘what happens next’ then it’s probably a failure.   Can’t be emphasized enough – after every half page imagine the audience actually saying, “Oh I see, so then what happened?”

2. Say Something

Most plays have a ‘message’.  This is that certain something the writer wants to communicate to the world.  It is what the play is about and is called its Super-objective. Good tales are OK, but successful plays usually contain social, emotional, religious or political messages, reflect upon the human condition or make philosophical points. 

If you don’t feel strongly that you’ve got something to say then audiences probably won’t be interested in listening to you.

METHODOLOGY – How to Write


The old adage of a beginning, a middle and an end isn’t good enough for a play, even a one-acter.  It needs a basic structure.  The simplest is:

Exposition – which introduces the setting, the people and the plot.  This gives the audience frames of reference such as names, places and period as well as the basic situation.  Without it audiences don’t know what’s going on.

Development of Character - this is very important, if you want audiences interest you must make them care about your people.  Make sure they say and do things that tell audiences about them, their lives, personalities, values etc… 

Development of Situation – plan the revelation of the plot.  What happens and the order it happens in.

Crisis – where everything comes to a head.  The dramatic high point of the play in which the major conflict set up by the action of the play is resolved.

Denouement – the great unraveling where everything gets explained, loose ends are tied up, the message is underlined and all situations set up during the development stages are sorted or deliberately left for the audience to ponder.

During the development phase – the meat of the play – every quarter of a page ask yourself, ‘Have I just given more information about a character or have I advanced the plot?’  If you haven’t, check what you’ve written has purpose – it may be a few lines to lighten atmosphere or set up dramatic irony.


Every character should have its own voice:

HOW characters say things - accent or dialect, use of slang, period speech genre and phrases, things indicated by punctuation – eg. commas for short pauses or even exclamation marks everywhere!  Look for clues about speed of delivery or pace, in short sharp outbursts or long, constructed, complex monologues. 

WHAT they say.  - language used: big words/small words, educated or uneducated vocabulary, short sentences/long sentences, simple/intricate thought patterns, use of grammar, use of imagery, repeated words or expressions.  Look for style.

Also what they DON’T SAY –  eg. A man coming home from work shares a worry with his wife.  If she changes the subject to something trivial it raises the question, ‘does she care’?

As everything in your script is contrived or made up by one person, you, try to see how much of the author’s voice comes through the character’s voices – a common fault of the inexperienced writer is all the characters sound the same!  George Bernard Shaw was infamous for this!


If you write for the stage forget what you’ve seen on TV.  Many TV shows have very short scenes, especially the soap operas.  Theatre audiences expect to be engaged in something and not to have short-attention-span episodes paraded before them. 

In a one act play if you do need to change location it can be done by the lighting without a curtain drop; but it is best to avoid writing something ‘bitty’ that is really aimed at TV.  A page of A4 dialogue plays for about two minutes so if your play has new scenes every 2 or 3 pages then it’s not going to work on stage – unless you have created something really clever!


Remember everything you want the audience or the actors to know must be written down.  If the audience has to understand something it must be spoken or done by the actors, either one character to another or directly to the audience. 

If you want actors to do something, tell them in the stage directions but resist the temptation to their job for them.

Do not assume anyone, actor, director, designer, stage manager or the audience can see what you see in your imagination.  If it’s important, write it! Your written words are the only communication vehicle you get!  

last updated: 11/09/06
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