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Thread: playwriting prompts / tips

  1. #1

    playwriting prompts / tips


    I moderate a playwriting workshop at a cafe/bookstore. It is well attended and I usually start things rolling with a prompt. I try to focus on different things such as dialogue etc. I have been running dry lately and I was wondering if you could give me the benefit of your expertise and suggest some prompts and tips. Much appreciated. Chazky

  2. #2
    Screenwriting Moderator Joe Calabrese's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    NYC area
    check out:


    They both have quite a few to spark your imagination.

  3. #3
    Just an (aka) alias! Sara Rachael Hope's Avatar
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    May 2005
    Metro DC, USA


    How 'bout "What kind of party do you want to go to?"

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by chazky

    I moderate a playwriting workshop at a cafe/bookstore. It is well attended and I usually start things rolling with a prompt. I try to focus on different things such as dialogue etc. I have been running dry lately and I was wondering if you could give me the benefit of your expertise and suggest some prompts and tips. Much appreciated. Chazky
    Try checking out some books on improvisation. There are some with situations that are great as prompts for short plays or scenes using dialogues. Example: two siblings come home after school and find a large box in their living room. Sibling A wants to open it and Sibling B thinks it's better off left alone. Good for developing conflict, character, and resolution.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    buy this book


    The best guide I have found for my own writing as well as teaching is 'Playwrighting - a practical guide' by Noel Greig. It is full of useful information as well as ideas for individual and group work with lots of practical class exercises. It's published by Routeledge, available on Amazon and is well worth the investment.

    Hope this helps!

  6. #6
    Mostly harmless SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Tripped over these while browsing Wikipedia for some other stuff. [Obviously, as time passes and websites change or vanish, some links may stop working; if you discover this then please PM me to let me know so I can edit this post.]

    Playwriting 101 - a playwriting tutorial written by playwright and screenwriter Jon Dorf.

    The Playwriting Seminars - playwriting site written and maintained by Richard Toscan of the Virginia Commonwealth University, USA.

    A Google search on stage play format example pdf also yielded a couple of stage play samples, which are useful if only to demonstrate the diversity of the formats you'll find out there!

    The following are US and UK stage play guidelines in PDF format from the BBC Writersroom resource (which also has free downloadable templates for MS Word):

    Update, 06 Jan 2013, site changed, pages missing.
    How to format your submission to the
    VSA arts Playwright Discovery

    Virginia Commonwealth University

    Update, 06 Jan 2013, problem loading page.
    Professor Martin Zurla

    Update, 06 Jan 2013, site changed, pages missing.
    General format reference guide courtesy of

    Stageplay Guidelines from

    Intro to Playwriting
    How to Format A Stage Play

    Last edited by dpaterso; 11-07-2016 at 10:36 PM. Reason: dammit, more links no longer valid
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  7. #7
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Kassandra's Avatar
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    Jan 2008
    One of the trully inspiring books to which I return each time I am stuck is IMPRO by Keith Johnstone (Routledge).

    It has creative ideas flowing and it sets creative ideas flowing adressing important basic aspects through numerous exercises as well as providing inspiring specific theatre techniques.

    Let's us not forget that theater is not just literature. More than anything it must be "theatre". Johnstone has sections on "Status", "Spontaneity", "Narrative Skills", "Masks and Trance". The last one especially is useful for theater writers who often forget that in theater, a mask as well as trance, have been its most ancient devises. Plus good stuff for comedy.

    I can't urge you enough! It might give you a totally new direction and material to last you for years.

    Let me know if you do follow this through...

    Best wishes,

    Never was an age more deprived of secret life than ours. And never was an age more dramatic, more distressed, yet the most violent, the most conclusive. And determining events fall on dulled sensitivity, unable to react, needing to be shaken, revitalised, rendered capable of feeling the acuity of the time.
    Antonin Artaud

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    As I see the playwright as more of an auteur who should have the characters, dialog and stories at fingertips, ready to use to illustrate whatever worlds the writer chooses to create..

    I've always used Film for inspiration for theatre (as a means of absorbing quality unpredictable plots, as well as soaking up great ways to tell complex concepts simply in dialog) - try deliberately watching some good quality films..

    Kind of the equivalent of hunting for high quality mince to drop into the sausage machine, so that when the time comes to make sausages, your own that emerge are unique and of a quality above the average

    So that hunting for 'raw mince' needs to be a constant thing, otherwise average every day life, and a diet of predictable stories (which is what a lot of US film/theatre is) - just isn't going to kickstart the creative engine thoroughly..

    I'd recommend hunting down some titles from the Korean cinema - as for quite a long time now, they've seemed to be at the cutting edge of utterly genre-blurring storylines and totally unpredictable stories, with a serious level of expertise in acting/technical..

    Titles like Old Boy, Bad Guy, Samaritan Girl, Bungee Jumping Of Their Own, Joint Security Area, Save the Green Planet.. are a good start point..

    Or for direct theatre:
    Dig out masterpieces, like the Royal Shakespeare Company's filmed version (8.5 hrs!) of 'Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby' - or soak up Peter Brook's gigantic version of 'The Mahabharata'..
    or for a glimpse of what is possible in theatre - from a visual/set perspective, try hunt down source material on Robert Wilson, whose avant garde theatre works are pretty awe-inspiring in terms of creating visual theatre 'moments' - using a variety of theatrical forms and tools, from lighting, through to multiple layers of action and business on a stage by characters..

    /my two cents worth

  9. #9
    MG/YA Author and Playwright Wizera's Avatar
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    Nov 2013
    I feel like this post hasn't been used in far too long. Since one of my primary areas as a writer is playwriting, I thought I'd give it a little bump and share my three, basic rules for playwriting. These are just personal rules that I follow:

    1. Know Thy Audience: Determine what age group you're targeting. Adults? Families? Children? While it's important not to "write down" for children, it's equally important not to throw in references to I Love Lucy or Citizen Kane. They won't get those references and they'll turn to their parents to ask what it meant, interrupting the flow of the performance.

    2. Doubling is Thy Ally: Many theatres today can't afford shows with big casts. But double-casting can work great for the themes of certain shows. I especially love to use it for TYA shows that string several narratives together. Casting the same character in similar roles in story after story shows the common thread.

    3. Map Thy Route: This absolutely doesn't work for everyone, but when I sit down to write a script, I always outline the story first. I need to know how a story ends before I begin it. Some people like to let the characters be the guide. I prefer to start with the story. This won't work for everyone. Know thyself.
    "Life's like a movie, write your own ending..."

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW Albdantesque's Avatar
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    Mar 2016
    Quote Originally Posted by chazky View Post

    I moderate a playwriting workshop at a cafe/bookstore. It is well attended and I usually start things rolling with a prompt. I try to focus on different things such as dialogue etc. I have been running dry lately and I was wondering if you could give me the benefit of your expertise and suggest some prompts and tips. Much appreciated. Chazky
    Don't do any big thing without warning the audience that something big is coming.

    Everyone on the stage has to be different in everything, except when similarities are part of the message you want to convey.

    Use phrases which have the potentiality to become popular.

    Finish there where you started from... the 98% of good plays (Shakespeare's ones included) never break the cycle. If you understand how music works, you will understand plays also (there are low and high tensions, motives, refrain, and an end that sounds similar to the opening).

    Make actions and movements as more clear for the audience and directors. Descriptions work for directors, whereas dialogues give the best impression to the audience on what is going on.

    Show attention to every detail. If one character will not speak for 10 mins, you better make him loudly declare that he is going to the restroom than just having him on stage doing nothing.

    Good food needs spices, good novels and plays need all the kinds of decorative, beautifying effects you may imagine (without distorting the main motif of your play). Details are very important, show attention to them and edit many times everything you write. The greatest plays focus on the detail, not on the message (98% of tragedies say exactly the same thing.... so forget about grasping any parables from great plays).

    Never be afraid to delete whole pages from your play. What matters are not the phrases you love, but the motif of the play... which should never get distorted, regardless of the number of pages you have to delete.

    Stop googling about plays and read the best in the field, translations included (Sophocles, De La Barca, Ibsen, Chekov, Pirandello are considered great mentors by many).
    Last edited by Albdantesque; 08-20-2017 at 06:27 AM.
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