How to Write a Play for Beginners
So You Want to Write A Play?
Maybe you just woke up from the weirdest dream ever and want to share it with somebody else. Maybe you saw a particularly funny customer interaction at the grocery store and want to reenact it for your friends. Or maybe you just want to transport somebody into another world full of fantastical creatures and epic quests. While a story may be nice to read, writing a play will let people fully experience what you want to tell them by putting them in your shoes. In this article, we will be discussing how to write your first play.
Step 1: Create Your Setting
Every story needs a setting. It could be a realistic one, such as a bedroom or a supermarket, or it could be a fantastical one, like a castle in space or an underwater secret base. What's important is that you pick a setting that is interesting to you. Nobody wants to write a play set in a place they wouldn't be interested in. You should also pick a setting that you feel you can create a whole world in. You may really love the idea of a play set on a pirate ship, but if you can't think of any pirate names, problems for the pirates to encounter, or anything else about the world, you probably shouldn't set your play there.
Next, you need to pick the time of day your play is set. Is it set early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or even in the middle of the night? Every location will be different depending on the time of day it is. Someplace that is safe during the day could be scary at night, or a place that is lively during the night might be dead during the day.
Now we have the tools to create the setting for our play. For instance, for this article, we're going to write a short play set on a front porch in the morning. The front porch is a relatable location that immediately conjures up possible characters: A milkman, a paper delivery boy, a kid leaving for school, etc. Setting it in the morning makes sense for the setting, as front porches see the most activity when people are leaving the house in the morning.
Step 2: Create Your Characters
Now it's time to pick your characters. For your first play, you should probably start with just two characters. As you write more and more, you can add as many characters as you need to make the story seen fit. Remember, the characters have to make sense for the location. A pirate wouldn't normally be on a space station, and an astronaut wouldn't usually be swinging from the sails of a pirate ship.
You also should think about how your characters speak. Do they like to speak in long sentences, or do they get their point across in just a few words? Do they have an accent? How does that affect the dialogue? How old are they? Do they know big words yet? It can be helpful to create a table with information sections you can easily fill out about your character. Here is an example for two characters in our play set on a front porch.
Step 3: Creating Your Conflict
A play can't exist without conflict. If I wanted an apple and you gave me one, it would be nice, but it wouldn't be very exciting. However, if I asked you for an Apple, and you said you didn't want to give me one, we've opened the door for many different possibilities. Do you decide to share the apple? Do I steal the apple? Do you make me pay for the apple? By creating conflict, you allow yourself to find numerous creative directions to take your story in.
When thinking about your conflict, you need to make sure that it makes sense in the context of your setting and with your characters. A play about pirates who have to fight an alien from space might be silly, but because the conflict doesn't match the setting or characters, it will be very hard to create compelling dialogue and plot devices for your play.
For the conflict in our front porch play, let's say that the paper boy wants to sell Mrs. Johnson a paper, but she doesn't want to buy one. It's a conflict that makes sense for the setting and characters, and provides enough room for our play to go in many different directions.
Step 4: Creating Your Story
Before you start writing dialogue, it can often be helpful to write our a short story outline to guide you. This way, you can look back at it when you are writing lines so that your characters stay in line with the setting and conflict. Let's try making a short outline for our front porch play:
One morning, a paperboy came to Mrs. Johnson's front porch. He asked if she wanted to buy the morning paper, Mrs. Johnson said that she didn't want to buy the paper today. The boy asked why and the woman responded that her dog tore up every paper she brought into the house. The boy suggested that she read the paper out on the porch, and the woman realized that it was a good idea. She bought a paper and the paper boy continued his route.
Step 5: Creating Your Diologue
Now that you have your story outline, you can get to work creating your dialogue. It's important that your character's lines stick to the story and don't wander off. If the play is about a pirate finding treasure, the pirate isn't going to start talking about the time he failed a test at school. All dialogue should serve the plot of the story you are telling. Because you created a story outline, it will be easy to create dialogue that fits all your criteria. One inportant thing is to make sure you distinguish stage directions from diologue. You can do this by putting actions in italitcs, and diologue in normal text. Here is how we would translate our outline for our front porch play into dialogue:
A paper boy rides up to a front porch on his bike. He sees a woman sitting on the porch.
Paper Boy: Hello ma'am!
Mrs. Johnson: Why hello! May I help you?
Paper Boy: I'm selling newspapers, and I was wondering if you would like to buy one!
Mrs. Johnson: That's very kind of you, but I'm going to have to say no today.
Paper Boy: Why not?
Mrs. Johnson: Well...Every time I bring a piece of paper into the house, my dog rips it up. If I brought a newspaper into the house, he'd tear it up before I could read it.
Paper Boy: Well what if you read it on your front porch? You have a nice chair out here already.
Mrs. Johnson: You know what? That's a really good idea! I think I will take a paper!
Paper Boy: Really? That'll be 50 cents.
Mrs. Johnson pays the Paper Boy
Mrs. Johnson: Here you go. Thank you!
Paper Boy: You're welcome! Have a nice day!
Mrs. Johnson sits down and reads the paper. Paper Boy rides away on his bike.
You now have all the tools you need to write your first play! Now go and find a story that interst you, and turn it into your very own work of art.
© 2019 D Henry Hanson