Basic Playwriting Exercise: Character Conflict

This is a simple playwriting exercise designed to get students writing dialogue and creating conflict on stage. As it is with all exercises, there are rules for this one. Sometimes students will protest the fact that there are rules for an exercise. They feel that the restrictions put on them inhibit their creativity.

I always explain to them that the rules are in place to help them focus on the specific exercise so that they can create a finished, short play that has a focus. In other words, the rules of each exercise aid them in getting the work done in a timely fashion. I will also often explain what techniques or skills the particular exercise is designed to develop, as this is always a primary reason for an exercise.

Below is the solid, initial playwriting exercise.
You may also download it as a PDF:   Playwriting Exercise: PDF Format

For a formatting handout click here  Sample Format Page.

Basic Playwriting Exercise: Character Conflict

Create a scene with two characters and one setting. The characters must each want something but they are unable to attain their goal because of the other character. It can be something material (a new car, an ice cream, a trip to Disney) or they may want something not of a material nature (freedom, love, friendship).

Guidelines and Rules:

  1. Two characters
  2. One setting
  3. One scene continuous, no breaks or jumps in time
  4. Each character must want something from the other but they cannot get it at the start of the scene
  5. The two characters must come into conflict and in some way oppose one another
  6. No weapons (No guns, knives, bombs, etc. None)
  7. Focus on character and what they want and why they want what they want
  8. Use stage directions when needed
  9. Utlize dialogue to its fullest
  10. The scene should have a beginning, middle and end
  11. The character(s) may or may not achieve their goals (that’s up to you)
  12. Estimated length of scene 3 to 6 pages

Exercise Contributed by Paul Mroczka

Paul is Director of Educational Resources for and serves as Director of Theatre at Plymouth State University, Plymouth, NH.

  • Author Spotlight

    Paul Mroczka

    Paul Mroczka has served Theatre By the Sea as associate director and playwright-in-residence. He has directed for companies including North Country Center for the Arts, Pontine Movement Theatre, The Theatre of Newburyport and the Palace Theatre. A former National Endowment for the Arts fellow in playwriting, he has also garnered a Shubert Fellowship, the Jason Miller Award and has received grants from the New Hampshire Council for the Humanities. His plays have been performed at New York’s La MaMa La Galleria, Nat Horne Theatre, and Manhattan Punchline Theatre, among others. His interactive planetarium show, Pathfinders, is running at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, NH. Recent directorial assignments include Good People, Steel Magnolias, and The Complete World of Sports (Abridged) at The Barnstormers Playhouse in New Hampshire, and Rumors, Orpheus in the Underworld, and The Glass Menagerie at PSU. This summer Paul finished an initial draft of his new play, Smart Money and is working on numerous other projects. Read Full
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