Three Quick Playwriting Exercises that Get Results

Getting students writing quickly can garner solid results and development.
Getting students writing quickly can garner solid results and development.

If you’re teaching playwriting, you may be frustrated or perhaps a bit anxiety ridden about ensuring your writers can actually create scripts. In other words, many who teach playwriting for the first time find that they have difficulty in getting novice playwrights to turn out scripts. Here are a few tips towards doing that and three quick exercises that will get your playwrights creating interesting short scripts quickly.

Tips for Creating Plays

It’s important to make sure that your students get the basics. Such as how scripts are formatted, the manner in which dialogue is written, and the need to understand that they are writing for the stage and not TV or the movies.

Here are a few quick tips:

  • All scenes that they write should have a title
  • Writers need to describe the set, time, and place
  • Characters need to have objectives
  • Focus on dialogue
  • Make sure necessary physical actions are clearly defined
  • Keep scenes simple- one setting and 2 to 3 characters
  • Each short play should have a beginning, middle, and end

Exercise 1: The Prop

Perhaps a coffee cup can be used in the exercise?
Perhaps a coffee cup can be used in the exercise?

Give students a list of props (no weapons or guns). The list may include food items, hand props, such as a lighter, wallet, a cup, flower, or calculator; and larger props, such as a computer, coffee maker, or framed picture.

From that list they must

  • Choose one prop
  • One setting
  • Use it in a scene between two characters
  • The conflict must be over the prop
  • It needs to be important to both characters but for different reasons
  • By the end of the scene one character has the prop

Exercise 2: I Love You

Don't make it obvious!
Don’t make it obvious!

In this scene, which is between two characters, one must tell the other that they love them without saying the words “I love you.”

  • One setting, minimal set pieces
  • Two characters
  • One tells the other they love them
  • The writer must define what type of love is involved- paternal, romantic, friendship, etc.
  • Expressing love should be difficult due to some outer or inner conflict
  • The other character may or may not return the sentiment
  • Encourage writers to use language creatively, an unusual prop or a series of actions
  • The scene needs to have a beginning, middle and end

Exercise 3: Picture This

Find interesting looking people,
Find interesting looking people,

Pull 50 or so pictures of people from the Internet. The people in these pictures should include regular, everyday people, glamorous and rich individuals, people of all ages and from all walks of life. Look for people whose stories you want to know.

  • Give the class all of the pictures
  • They choose 2 or 3
  • They will base a character on each of the photos
  • Write a scene with these 2 or 3 characters
  • One setting
  • There must be a conflict
  • The scene needs to have a beginning, middle and end

After They Are Written

Once scenes are written, review them and offer some suggestions towards making them more complete. Give some time for writers to make adjustments. Then have the scenes read aloud. Discuss each, starting with the positive and then focusing on in which manner scenes may be improved. You may also encourage writers to expand scenes into longer plays, especially if the characters, situations, and themes have the potential for more development.

  • 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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