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).
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.
Writer's Block = Procrastination.
A few quotes that really get to the crux of what playwriting is about.
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.
Instructions for turning in your 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"?
Do you know which medium your idea is best suited for?
What makes great theater?
What is Dramatic Writing?
What drives the story?
To keep audience expectations in line with story, you will want to...
Find out why your first ideas probably suck.
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.
This is the way to approach criticism when discussing another playwright's work.
The formula for a one-sentence outline. How to determine your play's theme (upon completion).
The formula for writing a one-act, two-character play.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Discussion of stage directions and what the abbreviations are.
Explanation fo why your play should only contain a minimum of stage directions.
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.
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.
Did you come up with a title for your play? You may want to rethink it!
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.
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.
Meter produces rhythm, but why is rhythm so important in the language arts?
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.
We revisit your play's MDQ and your secondary character's DQ to make sure everything makes logical sense to your audience.
Let's revisit your one-sentence outline, make sure your story is mechanically sound, and see if we can figure out the theme.
Since writers are solitary creatures, it's necessary to execute exercises to combat the "working in a vacuum" affect.
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.
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?
Cycles in plays.
Surrealism and metaphor - used to examine the meaning of life.
What is really being said, or unsaid?
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.
Let's talk a little bit about your character expectations as well as the expectations your audience - and you - have for your character(s).
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.
Create a conversation beat sheet. Understand how art imitates life, even in beats.
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.
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.
The title says it all!
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.
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.
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!
A quick quiz to assess your knowledge of the process of creating a short play.
Writer-Producer-Entertainer | Educator | Web and Digital Media Content Creator & Manager
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, teaching and producing independent projects.