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Thread: Stage directions in the play

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Stage directions in the play

    Hello,
    I am new on this forum and I have few questions about play script-writing. I am not sure if it is normal or not but the whole play is in my head and I can clearly see my characters talking and moving but again it all happens in my head only. I know the whole play but it gets complicated when I start writing. However I am aware of the fact that transferring this from my head on to the paper is an art called script-writing. So my questions are

    1: How much should I give stage directions?
    2: Can I add inner feelings of the characters on the script?

    I will be grateful, if you kindly share your tips and tricks that can help me finishing my play.

    Thank you so much for your time and looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Regards,
    John

  2. #2
    Benefactor Member mrsmig's Avatar
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    Speaking as a professional actress with 30+ years in the business, I can advise you that providing extensive stage directions and emotional "coaching" for the actors is going to be a waste of your time.

    That's not to say you can't do it. Lord knows, George Bernard Shaw wrote voluminous (and very entertaining) stage directions. But ultimately, the staging of the play is going to be driven by the set design, and that's not something that's going to be under your control. The director and set designer are going to have their own vision for the show, and that's going to be limited by the restrictions of the venue where your play is produced. If the direction and design team is being super-collaborative, they might let you have some input (if you're included as part of the process, which is entirely up to the producer), but that's all.

    Likewise with providing "inner feelings" for the actors portraying your characters. First, you shouldn't have to "explain" how a character is feeling if your script clearly portrays the characters' intentions and motives. Second, there has to be some leeway for interpretation. Actors aren't wind-up dolls; they're going to have their own feelings about the way a line should be read, and to stifle that is to stifle the creativity that should flow during rehearsal.

    I suggest you read some recently-published plays to get an idea about what's appropriate to include in your script.
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  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Tsu Dho Nimh's Avatar
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    As an amateur who dealt with high school dramatics ... minimize the stage directions unless you need to set something up for the scene or the actor needs to do something contrary to the way people usually act. The pros ^^^ don't need it, and it confuses the heck out of the amateurs.

    Such as "Fred puts the pistol under the cushion and exits" and "Sophia grabs the cushion to throw at Bob, the pistol flies across the room, hits the wall, discharges and kills Tom." (this lets the prop people know they need flying pistols and a gunshot when they are reading scripts to pick a play)

    A direction like "increasingly frustrated" cues the actor to start slow and ramp it up. But they'll figure it out in rehearsals, which is not where they polish your vision of the play, but create their own bits of business to create their own vision of it.

  4. #4
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    First of all Thank you so much for your quick reply. I feel so satisfied joining this forum because people like you are ready to share their best experiences with amateur writers like me. May be it is because of your work experience or your skills but you have literally identified my main weakness in my writing style. Just like you said, whenever I start writing I spend too much time explaining the ''emotions'' of my characters. Personally speaking I enjoy doing that mainly because I am an emotional person by nature, which I have now understood is complete waste of time in a script. But yes I have got what you meant. Once again Thank you so much for your time and for your invaluable suggestions.

    Best Regards,
    John

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by mrsmig View Post
    Speaking as a professional actress with 30+ years in the business, I can advise you that providing extensive stage directions and emotional "coaching" for the actors is going to be a waste of your time.

    That's not to say you can't do it. Lord knows, George Bernard Shaw wrote voluminous (and very entertaining) stage directions. But ultimately, the staging of the play is going to be driven by the set design, and that's not something that's going to be under your control. The director and set designer are going to have their own vision for the show, and that's going to be limited by the restrictions of the venue where your play is produced. If the direction and design team is being super-collaborative, they might let you have some input (if you're included as part of the process, which is entirely up to the producer), but that's all.

    Likewise with providing "inner feelings" for the actors portraying your characters. First, you shouldn't have to "explain" how a character is feeling if your script clearly portrays the characters' intentions and motives. Second, there has to be some leeway for interpretation. Actors aren't wind-up dolls; they're going to have their own feelings about the way a line should be read, and to stifle that is to stifle the creativity that should flow during rehearsal.

    I suggest you read some recently-published plays to get an idea about what's appropriate to include in your script.
    First of all Thank you so much for your quick reply. I feel so satisfied joining this forum because people like you are ready to share their best experiences with amateur writers like me. May be it is because of your work experience or your skills but you have literally identified my main weakness in my writing style. Just like you said, whenever I start writing I spend too much time explaining the ''emotions'' of my characters. Personally speaking I enjoy doing that mainly because I am an emotional person by nature, which I have now understood is complete waste of time in a script. But yes I have got what you meant. Once again Thank you so much for your time and for your invaluable suggestions.

    Best Regards,
    John

  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnalia View Post
    First of all Thank you so much for your quick reply. I feel so satisfied joining this forum because people like you are ready to share their best experiences with amateur writers like me. May be it is because of your work experience or your skills but you have literally identified my main weakness in my writing style. Just like you said, whenever I start writing I spend too much time explaining the ''emotions'' of my characters. Personally speaking I enjoy doing that mainly because I am an emotional person by nature, which I have now understood is complete waste of time in a script. But yes I have got what you meant. Once again Thank you so much for your time and for your invaluable suggestions.

    Best Regards,
    John
    Big Thanks to you ''Tsu''. So glad that you have explained in such detail. Definitely I will keep in mind your suggestion and looking forward to hearing from you in future too.

    Best Regards,
    John

  7. #7
    Benefactor Member mrsmig's Avatar
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    Glad to be of help, johnalia. I see you're brand-spankin' new here (and struggling a bit with the "Reply With Quote" option, as so many new members do). May I suggest you head over to the New Members subforum and introduce yourself? You'll get a proper welcome and a bunch of helpful links that will help you navigate this very large and complex forum.
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  8. #8
    Stand in the Place Where You Live KTC's Avatar
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    I have ten plays under my belt, now. Less is more. You want to give the director the opportunity to add their creative stamp. You want the actors to create the characters. You want the director and actors to create the business that happens on stage. The script will tell them how to perform it more than any stage directions you give. And no inner emotions, etc. A play is a collaborative effort. The creation of it is fulfilled through through the director and actors. You give them the words... and then the creation process continues.

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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW
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    I find that, as a playwright, putting stage directions -- how the character feels, etc. -- helps ME. I'm the author and if the actor does not like it, tough. It is possible your character does things in such a way that is quite unknown to the actor.
    And don't worry -- actors are quite capable of ignoring what the script says!
    You could always put 'em in when you write the script and take 'em out of the final draft.

  10. #10
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    I would agree with noirdood that you should take out emotional stage directions if you do use them initially to help you. It comes across as self-indulgent; a play is like a blueprint, not a recipe. You need to allow the actors to find their way into the characters and if they can’t, it suggests that your dialogue isn’t up to scratch. We don't rely on stage directions in real life- we use context and our knowledge of a person is based on what they do and say. The only times you really need stage directions are for characters’ exits and entrances, important actions (he picks up the gun and fires), and to denote sarcasm if it isn’t clear (although generally it is) or to denote a genuine response if it looks like sarcasm.
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  11. #11
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    If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have advised any writer to keep stage directions to the minimum.

    A dramatist who embellishes his text with highly detailed instructions can be viewed in two ways: as a perfectionist who has a precise vision of what he wants or as an insecure individual who has no faith in the abilities of his cast or director to interpret his work.

    In the ideal world, a writer is on hand to collaborate with the director and designer on the first production of a new piece. Hopefully, this collaboration is built on mutual trust. It’s assumed that everyone concerned likes and admires the writing to some degree or they wouldn’t become involved (unfortunately this isn’t always the case).

    When the writer is actively participating, she contributes to the rehearsal process. In her absence, the text must stand or fall according to its merits or demerits. But, in either case, she must accept she will have only limited control over the interpretation of her work.

    I’ve always regarded this as a delicate process and the standard advice I’ve given to students is not to micro-manage. “Bury the treasure” has been my maxim; trust in the sensitivity and judgement of the artists who interpret your work to discover your intentions and make them their own.

    As I say: that's what I used to believe. Hard experience has tempered my opinions. Is there such a thing as being too subtle? I never used to think so but I have changed my mind.
    The problem is always the initial reader. Sometimes it's an overworked dogsbody who has the job of diminishing the pile of unreadable scripts sent in (I've done this job myself) but sometimes its just anyone in the hierarchy who wont give your work the minimal consideration it needs.

    As Alex Epstein says about film scripts: "… Your script will, if you’re incredibly lucky, run a gauntlet of a dozen readers, development assistants, development execs, execs, agents’ assistants, managers’ assistants and actors. All of them are trying to get through a huge stack of bad scripts. They will not give your script the benefit of the doubt … If a line is not blazingly obvious, they’ll just be confused … Confusion is your enemy. Most readers never recover from it, because they will almost never take the time to figure out what went wrong …”

    Here’s the problem. If you’re an established writer, when they look at your script, readers will assume that it works. However puzzled they are, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. If you’re unknown to them, they will not only not give you the benefit of that doubt, they will be more disposed to assume that it doesn’t work.

    Harsh but true, I’m afraid. That's why I've resorted more and more to signposting

    Signposting is something that writers used to do in the good/bad old days. Bernard Shaw, J.B. Priestley, Arthur Pinero were perpetrators; Rattigan and Coward have done it too. It means addressing the reader directly as an entity and either buttonholing them or tipping them the wink that this is a significant moment and, by golly, you better pay attention!

    After multiple occasions where readers have misunderstood or completely missed my intentions, I’ve revised my opinion on signposting. Even if you take them out at a later stage, they can be useful in guiding some readers; particularly those who seem to have never seen the inside of a rehearsal room.
    Last edited by sippog; 01-31-2019 at 09:27 PM.

  12. #12
    Stand in the Place Where You Live KTC's Avatar
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    Confusion in the script not being the issue, however, stage direction---the moving parts---I always keep that to a dull roar. In my experience, the director has always known how to make those parts work with my minimal intrusion. I'm not entirely certain you're addressing merely stage direction? Was that your intention when you discussed interpretation and confusion? I'm thinking of the horrid mistakes first time playwrights make of moving the characters about the stage like chess pieces and making sure through a volley of stage directions that the cast and director know exactly where to be and what position their hands, feet, eyeballs should be in at any given time. That kind of overkill of stage-direction is what I'm thinking about when I say minimal is best.

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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by KTC View Post
    Confusion in the script not being the issue, however, stage direction---the moving parts---I always keep that to a dull roar. In my experience, the director has always known how to make those parts work with my minimal intrusion. I'm not entirely certain you're addressing merely stage direction? Was that your intention when you discussed interpretation and confusion? I'm thinking of the horrid mistakes first time playwrights make of moving the characters about the stage like chess pieces and making sure through a volley of stage directions that the cast and director know exactly where to be and what position their hands, feet, eyeballs should be in at any given time. That kind of overkill of stage-direction is what I'm thinking about when I say minimal is best.
    I think I understand the distinction you're making. No, I'm not advocating a peppering of stage directions - or even acting directions, although writers like Edward Albee seem to get away with it. I was talking about significant moments of change in the action that are largely subtextual in nature.

    Mamet's work contains good examples of this. He hinges many key moments in his plays around small, seemingly "insignificant" beats ("Speed The Plow" and "Oleanna" both have such scenes) that have no build up to announce their presence. They slip past and then bite an audience in the rear. I've always admired him for that but sometimes I've wondered how many of the directors I've encountered lately would 'get' those scripts if they were reading them as first time submissions by an unknown.

    I don't pretend to be as skilled as Mamet but I started out as an actor and I do understand how subtext works. Just lately I've found myself having to explain to readers of my work the purpose of some scenes in that context. Not all readers, just some, but enough to make me think I should consider putting in a few signposts - just in the most crucial parts of the story.

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