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Angela has taught middle and high school English, Social Studies, and Science for seven years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.
To be, or not to be…that is the question.
This is one of the most famous lines from a play that's ever been written. Do you think you can write a play with such a long-lasting impact? Well, it might be a stretch to aim for Shakespearean quality right off the bat, but you can definitely work on several aspects of play writing to create a meaningful script.
In literature, a play is text written in the form of dialogue among characters that's intended to be performed on a stage rather than read. Since a play relies almost completely on dialogue, it can be difficult to write. This lesson focuses on the basic guidelines for how to write the script of a play.
Before you can begin to write a play, you first have to understand the format and how a play differs in structure from other types of fiction. A play is written as a script, a text version of planned dialogue.
There are two major parts of a script. The dialogue refers to the words that will be spoken by the actors. The stage directions are instructions about the positioning or movement of the actors or different aspects of the set.
Let's take a look at an example: the dialogue and stage directions from William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.
ACT I SCENE I
Verona. A public place.
Enter SAMPSON and GREGORY, of the house of Capulet, armed with swords and bucklers.
SAMPSON: Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals.
GREGORY: No, for then we should be colliers.
SAMPSON: I mean, an we be in choler, we'll draw.
GREGORY: Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o' the collar.
Do you see the difference in formatting between the dialogue and stage direction in this excerpt? First, note how the stage directions are in italics and separated from the dialogue. Stage directions are often given right at the start of a new scene so that the reader can visualize what the actors will be doing on stage. For the dialogue, note how the text moves to a new line when the speaker changes. Additionally, the speaker's name appears before each line of dialogue. Furthermore, the names are written in all caps to help them stand out. If you need to provide more stage directions throughout a scene, set them apart just like the ones shown previously.
Once you understand the formatting for a play, your next step is to plan the organization of your own script. Most plays are organized into acts, the larger sections of text, and scenes, or sections of text within an act. Acts follow the normal cycle of a plot. In fact, Shakespeare always wrote five acts, which represented the parts of a story (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution).
Each act can have several scenes, which usually change when the characters or the setting changes. Just like with any other form of writing, you need to do some pre-writing so that your play will be well-thought-out. Decide on the plot events that'll occur in each of the five parts of a story. You might not have five acts like Shakespeare, but you still need to decide what'll happen in each of your acts. Once you've plotted the acts, do the same for each scene within the acts. In this way, you can be sure your story will be a smooth flowing one.
As with any story, you must have conflict, which is a struggle between two forces. The conflict is what makes a story interesting. Without it, your story will have no purpose. A compelling conflict will get the reader to care about the characters.
Some beginner playwrights struggle with how to express a conflict solely through dialogue. How can you have a fully developed conflict with only conversations? You can't present all of a character's thoughts as dialogue, can you?
In fact, there are three strategies to address this issue: monologues, soliloquies and asides.
A monologue is an extended speech given by one character to other characters. A soliloquy is an extended speech given by one character standing alone on stage and heard only by the audience, not the other characters. Lastly, an aside is a short commentary given by one character that isn't heard by the other characters while they are on stage. All three of these approaches can be used to express the thoughts of a character, but a soliloquy and an aside are spoken for the sake of the audience. A monologue is used to convey information about a character's thoughts or plot point to both the audience and the other characters. Choose one of these methods when you need to express the thoughts of one of your characters in your play.
Lastly, consider your scene length. Typically, aim for shorter scenes towards the end of your play. This would be the falling action, which shows the aftermath of the climax, and the resolution, which ties up all of loose ends and provides closure to the story. Making these scenes shorter will help to keep the audience on the edge of their seats as they anticipate the finale.
To review, a play is a form of literature written in the form of a dialogue among characters that's intended to be performed rather than read. Writing the script, or the text version of planned dialogue, of a play is no small feat.
First, you must understand the formatting of the dialogue, or the words that will be spoken by the actors, and the stage directions, or instructions about the positioning or movement of the actors.
Next, work on planning your play, focusing on the content of the acts, which are the larger sections of text, and the scenes, or smaller sections of text within an act. Plan on including all five parts of a story, such as the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Remember that scenes usually change when the characters or setting change.
Finally, use conflict, or the struggle between two forces, along with monologues, soliloquies, and asides as necessary to make your play intriguing and compelling. When wrapping up your play, use falling action to show the aftermath of the climax and use the resolution to tie up all of the loose ends and provide closure to the story.
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Back To CoursePerforming Arts Lesson Plans
7 chapters | 180 lessons
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