Playwriting is a very, very, very, very, very, very long process. I mean, you could bang out a one-hundred page script full of lines like, “Yeah,” and, “Wow,” but that would be torture for the publishers and audiences alike. Some people think playwriting should be done on your own, or they refuse help from anyone else because they think they’re destined to be the new Shakespeare and Shakespeare wouldn’t possibly need help from anyone or anything. But truth is, the more people on the team, the better. I’m not suggesting you have one-hundred playwrights together trying to implement each of their ideas while also working off the others, but a good team of under twenty playwrights will create a strong creative environment. And if you’re lucky, most of them will have written a play before and so know a strong process. But just in case, I’ll let you in on a process that I think is pretty effective.
THEME AND SETTING DEVELOPMENT
First things first, what does this play deal with? What is the setting? This step doesn’t have to be specific, but it does have to be completed in order to move onto character development. You wouldn’t want to come up with twenty middle-aged characters only to decide you want the setting to be a middle school instead. Think about issues you’d like to address (if any), the setting and possibly the general idea of the plot.
This step is vital. Skipping it would mean having flat, two-dimensional, emotionless and backgroundless characters telling your story. The first thing you want to is come up with the amount of characters, then each of the characters’ individual traits. Then, work on background stories and changes that they will go through during the show. For example, a lesson that you want them to learn or an issue that you want them to discover. Finally, determine their relationships to other characters. Naming them can happen anytime during these steps, but to each their own with that.
Developing a story arc is pretty simple because nothing has to be specific and everything can be changed if need be. This works best visually, in my opinion, meaning draw a big arc and stick it up on your wall. Using post-it notes or pinning up pieces of paper in order to recognize plot elements it a good method of building a plot, or, if you want to be boring and less creative, you can write it on boring, old, crusty Google Drive.
Now you know your main plot points. So, write the scenes for those specific occurrences. If you have a scene labeled “Andrew’s Blow-up,” write that scene by itself and don’t worry about how to end it or how to start it. Just focus on that scene and work out all the rest.
COMBINING THE SCENES
You now have a stack of scenes that don’t really connect to each other in any way, shape, or form. Combining them may be difficult and will mean revising them to fit nicely. It’s like you are making a puzzle, but you didn’t have a chance to look at the other pieces while making them. So, you have to craft them and re-shape them to fit in. You might have to add dialogue or stage directions in between scenes in order to create a better flow.
EDIT AND REVISE
Editing will be your longest process. I can guarantee this. I was writing a play and we spent six hours everyday for an entire week revising, and by the end of that we still weren’t done. In fact, when we began the rehearsal process the actors didn’t even get the final version because there were still kinks to work out. Read through the script, read it out loud, read it backwards, read it upside down, whatever floats your boat. Keep working until you are happy with it.
This is a difficult and important step. The title of your play is going to make the first impression on your audience, so try to come up with something interesting to draw them in. For example, would you rather watch a play entitled “Bran Muffins” or one entitled “The Utterly Terrible and Enchanting History of Curdled Milk.” You tell me.
Now you know! Go and get ‘em, Shakespeare.