Improving Playwrighting Skills • PLC Blog • September 26, 2023

Improving Playwrighting Skills • PLC Blog • September 26, 2023

Q: Do you want to get better at characterization?

A: Write a 10-minute play on the most compelling character you can think of. This character’s life is in the details: background; outlook; quirks; beliefs; outward personality traits, what this person loves to do, eat, wear, read, talk about; what this person fears; maybe some things she/he loves and fears but is not aware of them. 

Q: Want to get better at subtext?

A: Write a 10-minute play where the main/principal conflict is ambiguous, unclear, yet explored without naming it.

Q: Want to learn how to build suspense?

A: Write a 10-minute play where there is nothing but suspense, that leaves the character at the very end without a payoff, only with further heightened suspense. Remember, here is where taking risks for the character pays off. Choose the risk with deepest struggle for the character, it will usually have the biggest payoff — positively or negatively. 

Q: Want to explore creating fascinating dialog?

A: Write a scene or 10-minute play that chooses every word for the purpose of creating laughter, or expressing sorrow, or that helps one character get to know and understand the other. 

Q: How can I write clear and concise stage directions? What do I include?

A: This one has some controversy surrounding it as many playwrights leave out any stage movement or placement in the stage directions, and only concentrate on what the character is doing, thinking, or feeling — not where they are doing, thinking, or feeling. Limit your stage directions regarding physical actions. Choose to tell only what your character is feeling (which helps with the subtext above). Now, how do we know what the character is thinking? Hint at it through well-chosen words that embody what they really do think, OR, that they are saying one thing and thinking another. (more subtext here)

All of these will not only help you, the playwright, create more interesting, compelling, and involving scripts, but it will give tons of information to the actors who play them, the directors who guide them, and the designers who create a physical world for them.

After you have done it with 10-minute plays use the same principals to create a longer drama. Maybe chose one of the questions above and write for different characters in your planned longer drama, then begin to combine them for a richer dramatic experience. OR write each question for each of the characters you plan on using. 

This type of ‘pre-writing’ may yield many different and beneficial results. 

by C. Michael Perry (Inspired by an article from

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