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Tips for Dramatic Writing
Tips for Dramatic Writing

Drama is a form of literature that uses action to tell a story. In a drama, you have actors who act out the scenes on stage using scripts, costumers, and stage directions. In drama, the main character is called a protagonist. The protagonist struggles with a conflict. The conflict can be internal (within the character) or external, but conflicts always have two opposing forces. Think of the angel on one shoulder, devil on the other scenario, and you understand conflict.

The story in a drama is a script. Writers who write dramas are often called screenwriters, and sometimes scriptwriters, because the words they write will often be acted out on stage, instead of just read from a book.

As you know, novels are composed of chapters, and poems are composed of stanzas. Plays, on the other hand, are composed of acts. Acts are major divisions of a drama. Each act contains scenes. Scenes show action occurring between the characters while they're at a certain place.

William Shakespeare changed drama as we know it. All his dramas were in five acts that were divided into numbered scenes. The list below shows how each of the five acts corresponds to a traditional plot.

Plots in Drama (The Five Scenes)

1. Prologue. This is the exposition that tells the situation and the setting.

2. Rising Action arouses the interest of the audience. It's made up of events that create suspense and interest.

3. Climax. Highest intensity.

4. Falling action reduces the tension. Doesn't have to be long. Can be brief.

5. Resolution shows a logical outcome. It ties up all loose ends.

Let's talk more about a prologue. A prologue was used especially in early drama when there wasn't any scenery to use. One of the actors would come out on stage before the play started and talk about the setting. The actor would also talk about what situation had caused the action that was going to take place in the play. In other words, he gave you a description of where the characters were and background information so you would understand the play.

Now, the opposite of a prologue is an epilogue. An epilogue comes at the end of a play. The actor would again come on stage and deliver a poem or speech. Prologues and epilogues are not nearly as common today, but some television shows still use them. Whenever you hear an actor narrating the beginning and end of one of your shows, those are epilogues and prologues. Grey's Anatomy has the character Meredith deliver the prologue and epilogue to every episode. Little House on the Prairie has the character Laura Ingalls deliver them. If you watch either of these shows, you'll see how prologue and epilogues help to tell the story.

How to Write a Script

It doesn't matter if we're talking about plays or scripts for movies or TV. Writing a script is different than writing a piece of fiction. In fiction, you can explain if a character is crying. In a movie or play, you have to show it. In a script, everything is shown either through actions or speech. You, as the writer, will tell the producers, actors, and actresses not only what to say, but what actions to take, as well.

Dialogue is used in plays and scripts just as it is in fiction: It relates conversations between two or more characters. However, dialogue in a play or script appears differently than it does in fiction. In drama (a play or a script), the character who's speaking is identified before the dialogue takes place.

Look at the example below, which is an excerpt from a scene in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra:


The same. Another room.



Where is he?


I did not see him since.


See where he is, who's with him, what he does:

I did not send you: if you find him sad,

Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report

That I am sudden sick: quick, and return.



Madam, methinks, if you did love him dearly,

You do not hold the method to enforce

The like from him.


What should I do, I do not?


In each thing give him way, cross him nothing.


Thou teachest like a fool; the way to lose him.


Tempt him not so too far; I wish, forbear:

In time we hate that which we often fear.

But here comes Antony.


As you can see, every time Cleopatra speaks, you see her name followed by a colon. This is the same for all characters. Stage directions are always in parentheses and tell the actor/actress which action to take.

Line breaks also differentiate between speakers. Notice the white space between Jane's lines and Ted's lines. This is an easy way, when reading, to know when to switch gears and imagine another character speaking if your eyes are reading quickly past names to get to dialogue.

That said, it's easy to know who's speaking, but it's harder to know how they are speaking. For example, maybe Jane suddenly realizes she has to go to the store. In fiction, there might have been descriptions to let us know this, but when reading a script or play, it's hard to infer that because of the lack of lengthy descriptions.

For that reason, it's very important that you pay attention to punctuation when reading a play or script. A period ends a statement. An exclamation point might show excitement or anger. If there is a dash, it means you should pause in reading and symbolizes a break in thought. If there's an ellipsis (…), it also means to take a break from reading, but symbolizes a break in action, or that one character is being interrupted by another.

Basics of Writing Plays

If you want to learn how to write plays, the best place you can start is watching as many as you possibly can. Fiction writers are told to read twice as much as they write. Those who want to write plays should read and view more than they write. It's always good to read a play, then go see it. That way, you can get a feel for stage directions, props, and how to write them into what you create.

The first step in actually writing a play, however, is to come up with ideas for a character or multiple characters. You can write character profiles as we suggested fiction writers do. This will help you create more well-rounded characters. This will carry over into your writing.

Next, decide on the conflict that your character(s) will face. Give your character a problem that he/she must solve.

Now, you have to decide where to start the play. This can be the most difficult part.

Let's say the play is about a guy named Charlie who meets a woman named Andrea. She quickly becomes the love of his life. It goes like this:

1. Charlie and Andrea meet at the grocery.

2. Charlie just ended a three-year relationship, but he's really interested in Andrea.

3. Charlie and Andrea start to date. Even though they take it slowly, they are extremely drawn to each other.

4. Charlie's ex-girlfriend watches them and gets jealous.

5. Charlie's ex-girlfriend kills Andrea, thinking if she does that, she will get Charlie back.

If we were writing a movie, the best place to start would probably at number five. It's the most exciting, so it would hook readers. We could flashback to explain the jealousy over Charlie's newfound relationship. But since we're writing a play, we don't have the luxury of flashing back. The most exciting part in a play becomes the climax. That means number five would become the climax of our story. Just as with fiction, it would come after the Rising Action.

Basics of Writing for Film

Screen writing for films is different than writing for plays. Movies are more visual than plays. Plays use dialogue to move them along, but movies tell stories in a more visual form. If you want to get a screenplay that you've written produced, then you need to keep this mind. It must also fit the conventional length of 100 to 120 pages for a feature film. It can be longer or shorter – but it can also go unproduced, too.

Just remember, a screenplay becomes a collaboration. What you write now will probably be rewritten many times by several other people. Other writers and producers will make changes to it. The name of the screenwriter that appears on the credits may not be the one who actually wrote the play. Your glory is in selling it most of the time, not in taking credit for it.

That said, let's talk about the basics of writing a script for film.

1. The first thing you need to decide is what kind of script you'll write. Decide on a genre. Do you want to write romantic comedies, action films, horror? Always write a script in a genre you like to watch. Your passion for it will shine through.

2. Decide who your protagonist will be. Come up with a character and create a character profile.

3. Decide on the conflict. Every good movie has a conflict. Think of something your protagonist wants, then put roadblocks in the way. The roadblock must be large enough to keep the story going, but it also must be in alignment with your character.

4. Decide on an inciting incident. In screen writing, the inciting incident is something that forces the protagonist to act. This typically happens between 10 and 15 pages into the screenplay. This essentially kicks the movie into gear and gets people hooked.

5. Determine the status quo. Most movies open with the status quo, where your protagonist is living life as usual. What's your protagonist's normal life? This will be their life before the inciting incident. Think of a romance where a woman is happy working during the day and spending the evening with her cat. Then, she meets a guy, and everything changes.

6. Figure out the climax. The climax is the high-point. It's also like a final showdown. It's when the protagonist finally gives into her love for the guy, and they kiss. The climax always happens near the end of a movie. After the climax, the screenwriter just shows how things end up. In our example, the couple gets married.

Biggest Markets for Script Writers

There are tons of markets for writers who write movie or play scripts. If you write scripts for plays, you might want to check any local theaters or playhouses. If it's any good, they might agree to do it for their next production. You might not get paid, but you'll start to build recognition.

Screenwriters have it a little bit tougher. Although you can write and publish novels from anywhere, and you can find theaters all over the country for a play, the market screenwriters is more geographically concentrated. If you want to succeed at screen writing, your best chance of doing that is in Los Angeles. That's not to say you can't sell scripts unless you're in Los Angeles, but eventually you'll discover that's where the big success (and paychecks) will come from.

Both playwrights and screenwriters can find places to submit their scripts on the Writer's Market website (www.writersmarket.com), or in the paperback book published by Writer's Market. A new book is published every year with updated markets. You can buy Writer's Market 2014, Writer's Market 2015, etc. This is the best place to find paying markets that are currently looking for scripts.

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