Amazing Kids! Magazine

From Page to the Stage -­ Writing Scripts

By Sophie Nadel, Writer’s Tips Editor

 

Hamilton is the big “smash­hit” on Broadway right now. It’s historical, musical, and witty, attracting a huge audience. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to get tickets! If you haven’t seen Hamilton, I’m sure you have seen another show, whether on stage or on TV. There is a ton of work that goes into producing these programs, but it all starts in one place. Everything from short sketches to something as big as Hamilton started in the same place – with a pencil and paper (or a computer).

Script writing is a whole other jar of worms than any other genre, but just as fun. In addition to the writing stage (get it? Stage!), there’s a step two, where a writer can see the script develop on a stage or a screen. Trust me on this ­ it can be wonderfully fulfilling. Although it might seem intimidating at first, or just so foreign that you immediately recoil from the idea of writing one, never fear! I have with me today several fabulous guidelines you can use when creating your own plays.

Similarities to other Genres

Although the format is totally unfamiliar, writing scripts is not very different from writing short stories of flash fiction. Plays come in all shapes and sizes, as well as sub­genres, just as fiction does. The same important aspects of a story apply ­ that is, characters and plot. Have a plot in mind when you start so that you can keep your writing organized and running smoothly. Your characters, too, should be invented when you start, just like they would be in a fiction piece.

Characters

Because plays are told through the dialogue of the characters, their development is very important to a playwright. Instead of a story that is plot­driven, scripts are more guided by the characters and their interaction with each other and events surrounding them. Try playing with your characters. Give them specific quirks or traits that make them interesting to watch. (This is especially fun to do when writing comedy, as odd character habits are part of what makes it so funny).

Stage Directions

One aspect of writing scripts that isn’t a part of any other genre is stage directions. These are notes you leave for readers, directors, or actors to help them understand how certain lines are meant to be said, or how the actors are supposed to move on the stage. The stage directions really bring the script to life. Ultimately, an audience won’t be able to read the stage directions during a performance, but they will be able to see them in action. Don’t be afraid to use stage directions, as they are at least as important as character lines!

Getting Ideas

You can get ideas for writing plays in many of the same ways you could get ideas for a piece of fiction or poetry. Everyday experiences, for instance, are a well of ideas. Base your plays on events in your life. If something funny happened to you, share it through a script! If a friend said something interesting, expand upon it through playwriting! There are so many possibilities to choose from, and it’s okay if the perfect idea doesn’t strike you in the head. Also, try some improvisation. There are tons of fun games you can play with a friend to help spark your creativity! One way I like to get ideas is by getting a prompt, or a first line to start your (figurative) engines. Sure, this might not be the best strategy if you want to write an entire hour­ long production (you’d want an outline for that), but it’s a good place to start. Try coming up with a line for one character and then build off of that. Here’s an example of a starting line:

A:  I don’t understand why you did that.

You can build off of this easily. What is it that character A doesn’t understand? What is his or her relationship with character B? These kind of games make writing skits easy and fun. Try writing a short script using the line above and see what you can come up with.

Format

Here’s an excerpt from a skit I wrote:

Two  children  are  on  a  school  playground.  AMANDA  suddenly  jumps  up  and  runs to the audience, frantically asking, “Did you see that?” to various people. She finally returns to the stage and approaches BENNY, who is playing with toy trucks.

AMANDA

Did you see that?

BENNY

No, what?

AMANDA

(points) That airplane!

BENNY

What’s so special about a plane?

AMANDA

It was on fire!

BENNY

Pfft. Yeah, right.

This skit was actually inspired by a prompt (A: Did you see that?). It is preferable to open a play with stage directions, so that the reader can get a sense of where it is taking place and the background. Stage directions should be italicized, and character names should be in all caps. The lines themselves should be formatted as shown above, with character names above their lines.

Here are a few prompts to get you started on your own scripts. These are suggestions for the opening line:

  1. A: Where did it go?
  2. A: I like your shirt.
  3. A: What do you want for dinner?

Now the situations the characters are in and what should happen next are up to you. Have fun with it! And if you already have a big idea, good luck writing it!

Editor’s Note: We have a writing contest going on right now that asks you to write a story using a prompt we have given you. Why not try it out? Check out our contest page.

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