Written by Paul Briggs
Playwriting opens up new audiences for your writing and new avenues for success. Many community theaters are looking for local playwrights to showcase. This generally means writing for “exposure” rather than money, but unlike certain Web sites I could name, it gives you the chance to actually meet the people who like your writing.
If your story doesn’t have too many characters and takes place within one or two specific locations (preferably indoors) it might be a good subject for a play. Writing a play isn’t any harder than writing a novel, but it is a little less forgiving. Unless there’s a narrator or Greek chorus, the audience knows nothing about the characters except what’s revealed through their words and actions. In fact, that’s really all there is to your characters. The actors who portray them will give them not only their faces, but their inner lives.
My advice to anyone starting out in playwriting is to keep set description simple and not worry too much about the blocking. Let the director deal with that stuff. Concentrate on the real meat of the play — the lines.
We’ve all had moments, reading books or watching movies, where we were suddenly yanked out of the story by the thought “that’s not how the character would talk,” or possibly “that’s not how anybody talks.” In a play, more than anywhere else, your dialogue should sound spontaneous — even accidental. It should flow naturally from the characters and the situation. Spencer Tracy said to never let them catch you acting. If you’re a playwright, never let them catch you writing. If you have one perfect line you just have to get in (and I know you do) take the time to guide the conversation to where it becomes a natural response.
The usual rule is that one page of script equals one minute of performance, but don’t count on this. As you write, try acting the parts, and time yourself as you do. This will give you an idea how long your play is.
Also, don’t flex your vocabulary too much. I’ve seen even skilled young actors struggle to pronounce words like “omnipotent,” “peculiarly” or “trimethylaminuria.” (If you’re wondering what fool put that word in a play, I give you one guess.)
If your play is chosen for performance, it will escape your control and take on a life of its own. The director and actors will change it, and don’t be surprised if they improve it. They know what works onstage better than you do.
The biggest surprise of all will come if you take characters from a novel you wrote and put them in a play. These people you can picture so clearly you could spot them on a crowded subway will have not only different faces and forms, but reinterpreted personalities. Aspects of them that you thought no one knew about but you will suddenly be on proud display. You’ll learn new things about your own creations.
In short, I love playwriting.