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Writing a Play: Script Format, Steps & Tips

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  • 0:03 Play: Definition
  • 0:44 Format
  • 2:18 Acts & Scenes
  • 3:15 Conflict
  • 4:29 Falling Action & Resolution
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

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.

A play is a form of literature with a distinct approach and formatting. In this lesson, you'll learn about the basic guidelines and strategies for writing the script of a play.

Play: Definition

To be, or not to beā€¦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.

Format

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.

Acts & Scenes

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.

Conflict

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.

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