Playwrights Practice: Playwriting Made Easy
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Playwrights Practice: Playwriting Made Easy

Write, edit and workshop original short plays. Examine and change your life. Train the playwright in you!
4.1 (15 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
864 students enrolled
Created by Jack Sullivan
Last updated 1/2016
Current price: $12 Original price: $50 Discount: 76% off
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  • 4.5 hours on-demand video
  • 5 Articles
  • 8 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion

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What Will I Learn?
  • Implement the methods and skills necessary to create your own short stage plays from idea inception through polished final draft execution, ready for contests, readings and workshops.
  • Master short stage play structure.
  • Workshop your play via moderated online table readings with other playwrights.
  • Discover formulas, shortcuts, methodologies and creative insights to help jumpstart your journey as a playwright.
  • Identify and overcome major flaws found in both new and professional writers today.
  • Understand what makes an idea right for theatrical exploration (versus cinematic exploration or literary exploration).
  • Study and master the art of nuanced dialogue creation.
  • Manage character and audience expectations.
  • Create and manipulate rising tension.
  • Uncover tips and tricks to help you avoid cliche in your writing.
  • Demonstrate and duplicate proper stage play format.
  • Submit your work to contests and workshops for further development, notoriety and financial gain.
  • Enable you to examine and change your life through playwriting.
View Curriculum
  • With Library Access, you can read the 4 (Four) Plays discussed in course lectures for free. These plays are: Tennessee Williams, SUMMER & SMOKE; David Mamet, AMERICAN BUFFALO; Harold Pinter, THE CARETAKER; Samuel Becket, HAPPY DAYS. To the best of my ability, I do try to cover these plays in the following lectures with enough depth that, even if you are unable to read the play itself, you will still benefit from the concepts presented in the lectures. Please don't take that statement as permission to not read the assigned plays: you will benefit far more from the lectures if you have knowledge of the actual dialogue created by the playwrights in each work.
  • You should have access to some sort of portable audio recording app/device, as well as a small notebook, a pen and a pencil.
  • You should have access to a computer and/or a word processor (programs like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter are industry standards and preferred; free alternatives are suggested in the course).

Playwrights Practice: Playwriting Made Easy

"The act of playwriting feeds the soul unlike anything else in the theatre arts." ~Unknown

This is a comprehensive course designed to teach aspiring playwrights the methods and skills necessary to create their own short stage plays from idea inception through polished final draft execution. Seasoned writers will benefit from the online table reading component as well as the lectures, allowing a chance to review technique as well as hear and garner constructive criticism of short works. We will reference and study theatrical masterpieces as examples.

Playwriting is about the journey of the play. That journey offers you the chance to change your life through examination. It enables you to take a problem and look at it in ways you may never have considered before. This can, in turn, present previously unseen options to you.

Herein, I offer to you the shortcuts, methodologies and creative insights taught to me during the first semester of MFA-level playwriting in Carnegie Mellon University's Dramatic Writing program. These fuzzy memories have been married to a myriad of professional tips, tricks and secrets I've learned through the experiments, successes and failures of both myself and fellow alum during our journey into the businesses of theater, film and television.

If you follow this course through from beginning to end and execute all of the readings and exercises, you will be armed with the tools necessary to transform yourself into a short-form playwright of note while becoming a better writer and a more thoughtful human being.

You will learn about short play structure, writing formulas, various types and levels of dialogue creation, managing character expectations, managing audience expectations, rising tension, avoiding cliche, and proper stage play format ... and in the process of practicing you will develop your own personal writing style and flare.

If you complete the instruction provided along with the assignments and optional online table reading, you will complete this course with a minimum of:

1) one ten-minute play with feedback via workshop, and
2) the foundation necessary to prepare you to write your first full length stage play for the purpose of winning notoriety, influencing people, mastering advanced structure, applying for a possible residency, or submission to short-form playwriting competitions.

This course is dedicated to the memory of my playwriting mentor, Milan Stitt, February 9, 1941 to March 12, 2009 (The Runner Stumbles).

Who is the target audience?
  • This introduction to the craft of playwriting, along with its online table reading component, is designed to be helpful and beneficial to writers of any level.
  • Screenwriters can benefit from this course through mastery of the art of dialogue creation. Extensive exercises have been created to help you write brilliant, nuanced dialogue that stands out and gets noticed.
  • This course is ideal for Low Budget Filmmakers and Scripted Content Creators, anyone who wants or needs to improve their speech/dialogue writing skills, anyone interested in developing their writing through constructive criticism [for online table readings], anyone who wants an opportunity to examine and change parts of their life, anyone who wants to make an audience pay attention and influence opinion, or anyone who needs a better understanding of their place in the world.
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Curriculum For This Course
51 Lectures
Course Overview
6 Lectures 30:14

Learn about the tools of the playwright's trade and get a few pointers on mining the world around you for the best original ideas.

Preview 14:35

Writer's Block = Procrastination.

  • Everything you write is a reflection of you. How deep into the looking glass do you dare to gaze?
  • Every time you think of a task and put it off, you suffer some of the same pain than if you had actually done it.
Preview 06:09

A few quotes that really get to the crux of what playwriting is about.

Preview 03:27

These are the quotes I read in the previous lecture. I would like to make these available to you to as a source of inspiration.

Download: Preface About Plays PDF
1 page

Why should you learn the art of playwriting? It's all about the voyage of the play.

Preview 04:25
The Bare Minimum: Everything You Need to Write Your First Draft
13 Lectures 37:20

Instructions for turning in your writing assignments.

A Note About Writing Assignments

Before you continue on to the lectures in section three, make sure you first read Summer & Smoke.

Summer & Smoke is a master case study in crisis/climax/resolution management.
For thought: How is T.W.'s language "large"?

Reading Assignment: Tennessee Williams, "Summer & Smoke"

Do you know which medium your idea is best suited for?

Which medium is right for my idea? Movies vs. Novels vs. Theater

What makes great theater?
What is Dramatic Writing?
What drives the story?

What makes great theater? Can you define event, plot and story? The MDQ.

Special Note:

To keep audience expectations in line with story, you will want to...

MDQ Bonus Lecture

Find out why your first ideas probably suck.

1st Impulses are Cliches (or "Your Kung Fu is not strong.")

Much of writing plays is learning to discern the truth in your own work, and an audience will only care about your character insomuch as they care about the difficulties that character must overcome.

The Difficulty with Solutions

This is the way to approach criticism when discussing another playwright's work.

Tell Me of My Problems: What Makes Good Criticism?

Writing Assignment: Record and Transcribe Dialogue #1

The formula for a one-sentence outline. How to determine your play's theme (upon completion).

Cracking the One-Sentence Outline

The formula for writing a one-act, two-character play.

Unveiling One-Act Structure

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: invent activities and events that facilitate great dialogue! It's time to write the first draft of you play. Please complete this assignment before you begin lectures in Section 3.

Writing Assignment: Draft One of 10-minute Play

This is a short play I created called "Retribution." I show it to you here to demonstrate proper stage play format for the play you will create in this course.

In the United States, physical play scripts are printed on 8.5"x11" standard white paper. The text is 12 point Courier.

Download: Proper Play Format Example - 'Retribution' by Jack Sullivan
13 pages
Getting Better: Tackling the First Rewrite
14 Lectures 01:27:10

Before you continue on to the lectures in section four make sure you first read American Buffalo.

This will prepare you for my lecture on 3rd Level Dialogue in Section 4.

Reading Assignment, David Mamet, "American Buffalo"

We discuss Tennessee William's play, "Summer and Smoke."

Large Language explained.
Deconstruction of play: series of multiple crisis, climax, resolution swirling around the Major Dramatic Question: "Will Alma get together with John?" and the scene-to-scene Dramatic Question: "Will Alma and John do it?"

WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Rewrite your play in the style of Tennessee WIlliams (i.e., use simple metaphors; mimic his rhythm of language ; mimic him poetically).

Lecture and Writing Assignment: Become Tennessee Williams

Discussion of stage directions and what the abbreviations are.
Explanation fo why your play should only contain a minimum of stage directions.

Stage Directions: What They Are and Why You Don't Write 'Em

This is a PDF download of an excerpt from "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," used as an example in the previous lecture. It is provided here to illustrate stage directions associated with a 'produced' play.

Download: Cat On A Hot Tin Roof excerpt
2 pages

This is a PDF download of the stage graphic used in the stage directions lecture. It is provided here to further illustrate stage directions and abbreviations associated with a 'produced' play.

Download: Stage Overview Graphic
2 pages

Did you come up with a title for your play? You may want to rethink it!

The Trouble with Titles

Using the play "Paw" based on "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs, we take a look at rising tension and complications in plays.

Rising Tension and Complications

This is the 'Attack-Complications-Crisis "Rising Tension" Graphic' used in the video for the previous lecture, presented here in PDF format for your download, print and study enjoyment.

Download: Attack-Complications-Crisis "Rising Tension" Graphic PDF
1 page

Meter produces rhythm, but why is rhythm so important in the language arts?

Rhythm is Key

Research is an important aspect of writing, but the type of research you need to do varies from situation to situation. Let's go over the basics.

A Few Notes on Research

We revisit your play's MDQ and your secondary character's DQ to make sure everything makes logical sense to your audience.

Writing Assignment: Identify Your Play's MDQ

Let's revisit your one-sentence outline, make sure your story is mechanically sound, and see if we can figure out the theme.

Writing Assignment: Rechecking the One-Sentence Outline

Since writers are solitary creatures, it's necessary to execute exercises to combat the "working in a vacuum" affect.

Writing Assignment: Record and Transcribe Dialogue #2

Rewrite to solve problems.
Never tell anyone what they want to know the first time they ask it.
Find ways to make your main character's MDQ bigger and more important.
Find ways to make your secondary character's DQ bigger and more important.

Writing Assignment: The First Major Rewrite
Defeating the Problems of the Pros: The Second Rewrite
12 Lectures 01:28:01

Notice how Pinter blends comedy and serious writing seamlessly.

As you are reading, think about:
What is the subtext of each character's dialogue?
What is really being said?

Reading Assignment: Harold Pinter, "The Caretaker"

Cycles in plays.
Surrealism and metaphor - used to examine the meaning of life.
What is really being said, or unsaid?

Reading Assignment: Samuel Beckett, "Happy Days"

Levels of Dialogue 1: "American Buffalo"

Levels of Dialogue 2: "The Caretaker"

We discuss the meaning of the third level dialogue in "Happy Days," as well as analyze the meaning of everything else in Samuel Beckett's surreal tour de force.

Levels of Dialogue 3: "Happy Days"

Let's talk a little bit about your character expectations as well as the expectations your audience - and you - have for your character(s).

Character Expectations

Beats relate to Rhythm in playwriting. Beats relate to timing and movement. Beats are the events, decisions and discoveries each of your characters encounter that forces him/her to change methods to get what they want.


This is a sample of a play beat down (a.k.a., beat sheet). All beats (character tactic changes) have been identified. Your assignment is to identify what he tactic change is at each beat. Write it down in the margins. This will help you learn to identify tactic changes in your own play from your own characters to create deeper audience interest.

Download: 'It's Only A Play' Beats PDF
14 pages

Create a conversation beat sheet. Understand how art imitates life, even in beats.

Writing Assignment: Record and Transcribe Dialogue #3

Now that you understand the process, create a beatdown for your own play's main character. Identify all beats, articulate the tactic change your character takes and why the change is needed. This will help you identify places where you can strengthen your play's rhythm and message.

Writing Assignment: Identify Beats In Your Play

Here I show you, by page number, exactly where the major incidents of your 10-minute play should hit to prevent your play from boring your audience.

Reality Check: 10-Minute Play page-by-page breakdown

Writing Assignment: Play Draft Three - Enhance Your Character Dialogue
The Final Draft. Now what?
6 Lectures 27:58
Listening Assignment: William Shakespeare's "Antony & Cleopatra"

The title says it all!

The Value of Historical Plays like "Antony & Cleopatra"

On any given page, there are more than 25 opportunities to change "specifics" that will alter how a character is seen. As artists, the playwright's job is to pick the specifics that will accomplish more than one thing.

Let's Get Specific

For this last draft of what will be your official "first draft," we're going to focus on punching up specifics in your play. This alone can set you apart from 80% of new playwrights.

Writing Assignment: Play Final Draft - Punch Up Specifics

Now you need to let your play breathe. It's time to let the public see it. It's time to have friends or actors read your play. You need to hear it!

Now what? Opportunities moving forward...

A quick quiz to assess your knowledge of the process of creating a short play.

What have you learned?
20 questions

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About the Instructor
Jack Sullivan
4.1 Average rating
15 Reviews
864 Students
1 Course
Comedian-Writer-Educator-Web Technologist & Worker Bee

Comedian-Writer-Entertainer-Educator-Web Technologist & Worker Bee

Jack Sullivan studied Dramatic Writing at Carnegie Mellon University under master American playwright Milan Stitt (The Runner Stumbles) and screenwriter Jeff Monahan (George Romero's Deadtime Stories) with classmates that went on to find success including Kourtney Kang (How I Met Your Mother) and Roger Rudick (Story of a Comfort Girl). Plays were workshopped through Carnegie Mellon University's legendary undergraduate acting school, a group of young talent including the likes of Joe Manganiello (True Blood) and Zach Quinto (Star Trek). He was blessed to have an opportunity to work with such a talented group!

In 2000, Mr. Sullivan earned his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Dramatic Writing, turning in a thesis that exceeded two-thousand and two-hundred pages worth of plays, screenplays, episodic television drafts, series bibles, outlines, treatments and scriptments.

Jack moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 2000 with a deal to write an action movie for Brad Krevoy at the MPCA (Motion Picture Corporation of America). He subsequently worked for several years in CBS Radio's talk division at 97.1 FM, KLSX, where he produced over 300 hours of online entertainment including live streaming events and scripted reality shorts under the supervision of the award-winning radio programming team of Jack Silver, Rich Boerner and Ron Escarsega.

Mr. Sullivan brought scripted reality-style entertainment to the web for the first time using Los Angeles talk radio legends like Conway & Steckler, Danny Bonaduce, Adam Carolla, Sam Phillips, Leo Quinones and Tom Leykis.

Mr. Sullivan performs as a stand-up comic in and around Los Angeles, has worked as a ghostwriter for multiple independent feature film projects and currently works for NATPE, the National Association of Television Program Executives, as their Web and Digital Media Support person. NATPE is a trade organization in service to the business of television and executes conferences twice a year for the industry elite to gather, discuss trends and problems facing the business, and buy and sell content. His position at NATPE grants him unique insights into the entertainment business, current pop culture and major trends associated with the businesses of radio, television and theater. 

He continues to follow his passion by writing his own original plays, performing stand-up comedy and Improv Acting, teaching and producing independent projects.