How to write a script for a play

Table of contents:

How to write a script for a play
How to write a script for a play

You have an idea for a play script, maybe a really good one. You want to expand it into a comic or dramatic plot, but how? Although you may want to get fully into writing, your play will be much stronger if you spend a lot of time planning your story before starting your first draft. Once you've brainstormed your story and a sketch of your structure, writing the play will seem like a much less daunting task.


Part 1 of 3: Create Ideas for Your Story

Write a Play Script Step 1
Write a Play Script Step 1

Step 1. Decide what kind of story you want to tell

Although each story is different, most plays are divided into categories that help audiences understand how to interpret the relationships and events they see. Think about the characters you want to write, and then consider how you want their stories to unfold.

  • Will they have to solve a mystery?
  • Will they go through a series of difficult events in order to achieve personal growth?
  • Will they mature by transitioning from childish innocence to sophisticated experience?
  • Will they embark on a journey, like Odysseus' perilous journey in The Odyssey?
  • Will they bring order to chaos?
  • Will they overcome a series of obstacles to achieve a goal?
Write a Play Script Step 2
Write a Play Script Step 2

Step 2. Brainstorm the basic parts of your story arc

The narrative arc is the progression of the work through the beginning, the middle, and the end. The technical terms for these three parts are exposition, rising dramatic tension, and resolution, and they always come in that order. Regardless of how long your play is or how many acts it has, a good play will develop all three pieces of this puzzle. Take notes on how you want to flesh out each one before you sit down to write your piece.

Write a Play Script Step 3
Write a Play Script Step 3

Step 3. Decide what has to be included in the exhibit

The exhibition begins the work by providing the basic information needed to follow the story: when and where does this story take place? Who is the main character? Who are the supporting characters, including the antagonist (the person presenting the central conflict for the main character), if you have one? What is the central conflict that these characters will face? What is the climate of this play (comedy, romantic drama, tragedy)?

Write a Play Script Step 4
Write a Play Script Step 4

Step 4. Make the transition from exposure to increasing dramatic tension

In the mounting dramatic tension, events unfold in a way that makes circumstances more difficult for the characters. The central conflict clears up as events raise the public's tension more and more. This conflict can be with another character (the antagonist), with an external condition (war, poverty, separation from a loved one) or with himself (having to overcome his own insecurities, for example). The rising dramatic tension culminates in the climax of the story; the moment of highest tension, when the conflict reaches a critical point.

Write a Play Script Step 5
Write a Play Script Step 5

Step 5. Decide how the conflict will be resolved

The resolution releases the tension of the climactic conflict to end the story arc. It can have a happy ending, where the main character gets what he wants; a tragic ending, where the audience learns something from the main character's failure; or an outcome, in which all questions are answered.

Write a Play Script Step 6
Write a Play Script Step 6

Step 6. Understand the difference between plot and story

The plot of your play is made up of the plot and the story; two discreet elements that must be developed together to create a play that will hold the audience's attention. The English novelist E. M. Forster defined history as what happens in the work; the chronological development of events. On the other hand, the plot can be thought of as the logic that links the events that unfold throughout the plot and that make them emotionally powerful. This is an example of the difference between the two:

  • Story: the protagonist's girlfriend broke up with him. Then the protagonist lost his job.
  • Plot: the protagonist's girlfriend broke up with him. Heartbroken, he had an emotional breakdown at work that resulted in his being fired.
  • You want to develop a story that is engaging and moves the action of the play fast enough to hold your audience's attention. At the same time, you should show how the actions are casually linked throughout the development of the plot. This is how you make the audience care about the events that are happening on stage.
Write a Play Script Step 7
Write a Play Script Step 7

Step 7. Develop the story

You cannot intensify the emotional resonance of the plot until you have a good story. Answer the following questions to brainstorm the basic elements of the story before you flesh them out with your writing:

  • Where does the story take place?
  • Who is the protagonist (the main character) and who are the important supporting characters?
  • What is the central conflict that these characters will have to deal with?
  • What is the "inciting incident" that starts the main action of the play and leads to the central conflict?
  • What happens to the characters as they deal with this conflict?
  • How is the conflict resolved at the end of the story? How does this impact the characters?
Write a Play Script Step 8
Write a Play Script Step 8

Step 8. Deepen the story as the plot unfolds

Remember that the plot develops the relationship between all the elements of the story mentioned in the previous step. As you think about the plot, you should try to answer the following questions:

  • What are the relationships between the characters?
  • How do the characters interact with the central conflict? Who is most impacted by this conflict and how does it affect them?
  • How can you structure the story (the events) to bring the necessary characters into contact with the central conflict?
  • What is the logical and causal progression that makes each event lead to the next, building a continuous flow toward the climax and resolution of the story?

Part 2 of 3: Decide on the structure of the artwork

Write a Play Script Step 9
Write a Play Script Step 9

Step 1. Start with a one-act play if you are new to writing plays

Before writing the play, you should have an idea of how you want to structure it. A one-act play goes straight from start to finish with no intermission and is a good starting point for people who are new to writing plays. Examples of one-act works are The Altarpiece of Wonders by Miguel de Cervantes and The Wedding of the Petty Bourgeois by Bertolt Brecht. Although a one-act play has the simplest structure, remember that all stories need a narrative arc with exposition, increasing dramatic tension, and resolution.

Because single-act plays have no in-between, they require simpler sets and costume changes. Keep your technical needs simple

Write a Play Script Step 10
Write a Play Script Step 10

Step 2. Don't limit the length of your one-act play

The structure of a single act has no relation to the duration of the work. These works can vary widely in duration, with some productions lasting as little as 10 minutes and others lasting more than an hour.

Flash dramas are very short one-act plays that can last from a few seconds to around 10 minutes. They are great for school or community theater performances, as well as competitions specifically for these types of plays. Read César de León's The Boy Who Wanted to Be Alone as an example of a "flash drama."

Write a Play Script Step 11
Write a Play Script Step 11

Step 3. Allow yourself more complex scenarios with a two-act play

The two-act play is the most common structure in contemporary theater. Although there is no rule for how long each act should last, in general these last around half an hour, giving the audience a break with an intermission between them. The intermission gives the audience time to go to the bathroom or just relax, think about what has happened and discuss the conflict that arose in the first act. However, it also allows the team to make considerable changes to the set, costumes, and makeup. Intermissions generally last around 15 minutes, so keep your team's homework reasonable for that amount of time.

For examples of two-act plays, read Peter Weiss's Hölderlin or Harold Pinter's Homecoming

Write a Play Script Step 12
Write a Play Script Step 12

Step 4. Adapt the plot to fit the two-act structure

The two-act structure changes more than just the amount of time the team has to make technical adjustments. Because the audience has a break in the middle of the play, you can't treat the story as a single flowing story. You should structure it around the intermission to leave the audience tense and on edge at the end of the first act. When they return from intermission, they must re-engage in the growing dramatic tension of the story.

  • The “inciting incident” should occur around the middle of the first act, after the background exposure.
  • Follow the inciting incident with multiple scenes that increase audience tension, be it dramatic, tragic, or comedic. These scenes must move towards a point of conflict that will end the first act.
  • The first act ends right after the point of highest tension in history up to that point. The audience will be left wanting more in the intermission and will return eager for the second act.
  • Start the second act at a lower point of tension than the point where you left the first act. You must gently bring the audience back into the story and its conflict.
  • It features multiple scenes in the second act that heighten the stakes in the conflict toward the climax of the story, or the point of highest tension and conflict, just before the end of the play.
  • Relax the audience towards the end with diminishing dramatic tension and resolution. Although not all plays require a happy ending, the audience should feel that the tension that you have built up throughout the play has been released.
Write a Play Script Step 13
Write a Play Script Step 13

Step 5. Moderate the pace of longer and more complex arguments with a three-act structure

If you are new to writing plays, you may need to start with a one or two act play, because a full three act play can keep audiences in their seats for two hours. It takes a lot of experience and skill to put together a production that can captivate an audience for so long, so you may need to set your sights on something smaller at first. However, if the story you want to tell is complex enough, a three-act play might be your best option. Like the two-act play, the three-act play allows for considerable changes in scenery, costumes, etc., during intermissions between acts. Each act of the play must achieve its own narrative objective:

  • The first act is the exposition: take your time to introduce the characters and the background. Make the audience care about the main character (the lead) and their situation to ensure a strong emotional reaction when things start to go wrong. The first act should also present the problem that will develop throughout the rest of the play.
  • The second act is the complication: the stakes for the protagonist increase as the problem becomes more difficult to navigate. A good way to increase the stakes in Act Two is to reveal an important chunk of information near the climax of the act. This revelation must instill doubt in the protagonist's mind before he finds the strength to push his way through the conflict to resolution. The second act must end with despondency and the protagonist's plans in shambles.
  • The third act is the resolution: the protagonist overcomes the obstacles of the second act and finds a way to reach the conclusion of the play. Take note that not all works have happy endings; the hero may die as part of the resolution, but the audience must learn something from it.
  • Some examples of three-act plays include El especulador by Honoré de Balzac and Yerma by Federico García Lorca.

Part 3 of 3: Write the play

Write a Play Script Step 14
Write a Play Script Step 14

Step 1. Make a sketch of the acts and scenes

In the first two sections of this article, you brainstormed the story arc, the development of the story and plot, and the structure of the play. Now, before you sit down to write the play, you should put all these ideas into a neat sketch. For each act, state what happens in each scene.

  • When are the important characters introduced?
  • How many different scenes do you have and what specifically happens in each one?
  • Make sure that the events of each scene lead to the next to help develop the plot.
  • When would you need changes of scenery? Costume changes? Take these kinds of technical elements into consideration when sketching how your story will unfold.
Write a Play Script Step 15
Write a Play Script Step 15

Step 2. Give body to the sketch by writing the work

Once you have the sketch, you can write your actual work. Just put the basic dialogue on the page first without worrying about how natural it sounds or how the actors will move around the stage or how they will perform their performances. In the first draft, you simply have to "put white on black", as the French writer Guy de Maupassant put it.

Write a Play Script Step 16
Write a Play Script Step 16

Step 3. Work on creating a natural dialogue

You want to give your actors a solid script so that they can recite the lines in a way that seems human, real, and emotionally powerful. Record yourself reading the dialogue from your first draft out loud and then listen to the recording. Take note of the points where you sound robotic or too fancy. Remember that even in literary plays, characters have to sound like normal people. They shouldn't sound like they're giving fancy speeches when they're sitting around the table complaining about their work.

Write a Play Script Step 17
Write a Play Script Step 17

Step 4. Let the conversations go off on a tangent

When you're talking to your friends, you rarely stick to a single topic with focused concentration. While in a play the conversation should lead the characters to the next conflict, you should allow small distractions to make it feel realistic. For example, in a discussion about why the protagonist's girlfriend broke up with him, there may be a two- or three-line sequence in which the speakers argue about how long they had originally dated.

Write a Play Script Step 18
Write a Play Script Step 18

Step 5. Include breaks in the dialogue

Even when we're not being rude, people break into conversations all the time, even if it's just to express support with "I get it, friend" or "No, you're absolutely right." People also interrupt themselves by changing course within their own sentences: "I just… I mean, I don't really mind driving there on a Saturday, it's just… Listen, I've just been working really hard lately."

Don't be afraid to use sentence fragments either. Although we are taught that we should never use fragments in writing, we use them all the time when we speak: "I hate dogs. All of them."

Write a Play Script Step 19
Write a Play Script Step 19

Step 6. Add dimensions

Annotations allow actors to understand your vision of what is unfolding on stage. Use italics or square brackets to distinguish the notations of spoken dialogue. While actors will use their own creative license to bring your words to life, some specific directions you can give are:

  • Conversation entries: [long awkward silence]
  • Physical actions: [Silas stands up and paces nervously], [Margarita bites her nails]
  • Emotional states: [Anxiously], [With enthusiasm], [Picks up the dirty shirt as if it disgusts him]
Write a Play Script Step 20
Write a Play Script Step 20

Step 7. Rewrite the draft as many times as necessary

You are not going to hit the nail on the head with the first draft. Even seasoned writers have to write multiple drafts of a work before they are satisfied with the final product. Do not rush! With each pass, add more details to help bring your production to life.

  • Even as you add details, remember that the delete key can be your best friend. As the American journalist Donald Murray says, you must "cut out the bad to reveal the good." Remove all dialogue and events that do not add emotional resonance to the work.
  • The advice of the American novelist Elmore Leonard also applies to plays: "Try to remove the part that readers tend to omit."


  • Most plays are set in specific times and places, so be consistent. A character in the 1930s could make a call or send a telegram, but could not watch television.
  • Check the sources at the end of this article to find the correct format for plays and follow the established guidelines.
  • Make sure to always keep the action moving. If when making a presentation you forget a dialogue, make up one! Sometimes it's even better than the original dialogue!
  • Read the script aloud to a small audience. The plays are based on words, and that power or lack thereof quickly becomes obvious as you speak them.
  • Do not leave the work in a secret place. Try to make it known that you are a writer!
  • Write a lot of drafts, even if you are satisfied with the first thing you write.


  • The theatrical world is full of ideas, but make sure your approach to a story is original. Stealing someone else's story is not only immoral, it's almost definite that you will get caught.
  • Protect your work. Make sure the title page includes your name and the year you wrote the work, preceded by the copyright symbol: ©.
  • Rejection vastly outweighs acceptance, but don't be discouraged. If you are tired of your work being ignored, write another.

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