Lessons from reading plays, #3, 4, & 5

I’m continuing to read plays for a festival.  It’s been five months, and I’m still learning things.  Here are a few more of them:

#3, Use Standard Format.

You’ve probably heard lots of reasons for using standard format. That it’s easier to read. That makes it easy to estimate running time. That it shows that you’re professional.

First of all, standard format isn’t easier to read. From a cognitive psychology point of view, it has a lot wrong with it. But it’s familiar, which in a sense makes it easier to read.

But using standard format does make it easier to estimate running time. So that’s good.

And using standard format does make you look professional. You look like you know what you’re doing.

Besides looking like you know what you’re doing, you’ll also have a play that looks like it’s better than if you didn’t use standard format. You can avoid any unconscious biases the reader might have.

#4, Have the Characters Talk About Something Other than the “Subject” of the Play.

I’ve read so many plays where the characters talk about the subject, on and on and on.  That gets tedious.

Try this. Write a scene where your characters talk about anything other than the subject of the play. You may never use the scene, but you’ll get an experience in writing something that’s not expositional.

For my Conspiracy Play, I’m thinking of having the characters argue about how to make good biscuits. Don’t laugh — if you’re from the South, this is a big deal.

#5, Use Your Voice from the Start

So what does it really mean when literary managers and artistic directors tell you to capture their attention and pique their interest in the first 10 pages?

It doesn’t mean, have something exciting happen in the first 10 pages. Not everyone likes every script.

What it means is, let your voice shine strongly in the first 10 pages. The right people will then be interested in your script.

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2 Responses to Lessons from reading plays, #3, 4, & 5

  1. peakle says:

    #3 is really about making your play’s appearance invisible, so that it doesn’t snag on the reader’s nerves. If you don’t know how to proofread, find someone who does. When I am in rehearsal for a play that is poorly formatted, I notice that the actors struggle with learning lines that start on the top of a page when the character’s name is at the bottom of the prior page.

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