Want to write a Page to Stage script?
Here are some tips . . ..
Here are some tips . . ..
If you’re thinking of submitting a script for Page to Stage and are new to the experience of writing tiny plays, you might like a spot of guidance. Below are thirteen suggestions, compiled from a variety of sources, including feedback offered by judges of previous Page to Stage events. Don’t let them prevent you from writing that inspired piece of rule-burning, maverick theatrical genius that you’ve got in mind, but do consult them if you’d like some handy pointers. Their aim is to help you to avoid some common pitfalls and to steer in the direction of satisfying, functional theatricality.
- If you’re new to playwriting, try using a downloaded play script format template, or copying the layout from a published play script. Page to Stage won’t discount submissions that deviate from the industry norm, but using standard formatting will help the judges to appreciate how the play works, the actors to understand what they’re doing, and you to avoid such traps as, for instance, succumbing to the temptation to overindulge in stage directions. On which note:
- Your stage directions shouldn’t take up more of your script than your dialogue does. (If they need to, because the dialogue won’t make sense without a ton of supporting explanation, then your play may not be perfectly suited to the performance venue.)
- The same goes for those little, bracketed stage directions. By all means, use them, but don’t get addicted – try to craft dialogue that provides a sense of tone without needing constant support in the form of (angrily), (pensively) and (as if an enormous golden pelican has alighted on his nose). Try not to act all the parts from the page, but to supply the actors with dialogue, action and motivation that will inspire them to capture their characters.
- Make something happen. A previous year’s Page to Stage judge offered the advice ‘Tell them not to care so much about the past and make sure their characters are doing something now.’ Like any good story, try to build it around some sort of dramatic conflict, so that, by the end, something has changed. It’s not unusual for you to only realise what this is going to be whilst writing, so:
- Redraft. If your script eventually arrives at an interesting narrative drive in its fifth and final minute, see if you can use your next draft to weave that drive in a little earlier. Ideally, into the first minute – which leads us to:
- Try to hook us from early on, as in any narrative. Give us something we want to know more about, from the beginning. This is connected to:
- Don’t get bogged down with exposition, backstory or scene-setting. Strip this down to a minimum and sneak it in where it feels natural. And, whilst working helpful exposition into dialogue is an important skill, don’t forget that dialogue needs to have some other dramatic purpose than to cleverly smuggle indirect scene-setting into your play. This leads to:
- Keep dialogue motivated. Avoid dialogue that consists of characters telling one another or themselves things that they simply wouldn’t, purely because you want the audience to know them. This is part of a bigger point:
- Stay true to your characters. Don’t sell them out for momentary effect – whether a joke, a moment of striking poignancy or a pithy philosophical observation. If you reveal your characters to be inconsistent functionaries of your plot, your audience may stop caring. To help with this, remember that your characters will tend to feel more convincing if you keep your eye on their:
- Subtext. Linked to several of the above points. Try not to make the text the same as the subtext: avoid having characters simply say exactly what they really want and really think. Their drives and motivations should be shaping what happens and enacting the story’s central conflict, but avoid laying it all out directly in the sunshine with the dialogue. Try to provide enough to allow your actors to pick up what really matters, and trust your audience to have an ear for implications.
- Beware of cliché, as in any writing. It’s lots of fun to play with tropes and conventions, but try to avoid falling squarely into stereotypes. Related to this is:
- If your play is about something very serious and sensitive, take extra care with it. Be mindful of how you represent issues and people. This isn’t to censor your voice, but to handle a difficult task effectively. If grappling with something topical, ask yourself how someone with direct experience of the issue, or with a different view from your own, might react. If your script does grapple with tough subjects, that’s a good extra reason to:
- Get other people to read it. Aloud. Useful for all kinds of reasons: to hone your dialogue, keep the drama moving and steer clear of putting your foot in a controversial subject.
That’s all! Should you wish to add to these pointers, you’ll no doubt be able to find plenty more advice for new playwrights scattered about the internet, bookshops and the minds of knowledgeable friends – but perhaps it’s time to get started writing…
Make sure you’ve considered our Page to Stage Guidelines too.