Tips: Playwriting for 711

Like any other form of drama, your 10-minute play must have some sort of structure. Traditional structure for a ten-minute play might look something like this:

  • Pages 1 to 2: Set up the world of your main character.
  • Pages 2 to 3: Something happens to throw your character’s world out of balance.
  • Pages 4 to 7: Your character struggles to restore order to her world.
  • Page 8: Just when your character is about to restore order, something happens to complicate matters.
  • Pages 9 to 10: Your character either succeeds or fails in her attempt to restore order.

Playwriting, however, is not an exact science, and there are many different structures you can use for your play. If you don’t like any existing structure, make up your own! Just be sure to use some sort of structure in your play – because if you don’t your play will feel loose and unfocused, and we (your audience) won’t trust you to take us on a meaningful journey.

Twelve ‘Rules’ for Playwrights:

  1. No exposition! Just jump into your story. This presents a puzzle for the audience to unravel and allows them to play with you. Remember – we are fascinated by the unknown!
  2. Every detail must relate to the action of the play. You’ve got ten minutes – there’s no time for anything extraneous. Nothing is random. (Although at first it may appear to be so!) If you are writing a play about dogs, the curtain goes up, and there on the stage is a bone.
  3. Know what your play is about and write into the metaphor. More than anything else, this will give your play a sense of unity.
  4. A character speaks to get what they want. All characters have dreams. These dreams are what make themselves unique. How are they fulfilled? How are they not fulfilled? How do they turn in on themselves?
  5. A character should be off-balance in some way. Real characters are excessive in some areas. Deficient in others. If there is no disparity between what your characters are saying and what they are doing, you probably aren’t writing theatre.
  6. Don’t waste time talking about anything you can show. Images are more powerful than words!
  7. Every great play has a point of no return. The protagonist crosses the line. Now there is no turning back!
  8. Never let your characters off too easy! If you do, what they’ve just been through won’t have meant anything. They may escape with their lives – but just barely!
  9. Every protagonist must have a journey. They should end up someplace radically different from where they began. Big things happen – not everyday life with endless pouring of coffee and lighting of cigarettes. Life-altering events. If your protagonist ends up in the same place they started, they must go through Hell and back to get there.
  10. Find what is universal in your script. These are windows that allow us to enter your world. Forget Brecht! We want to relate!
  11. Remember that the climax is where a play wins or loses! The audience is rewarded for their attention. (The big pay-off!) The test of a great play is self discovery.
  12. Every detail comes together in the end. (See Rule #2) Somehow or another, we come back to that bone. Always pay off the bone!

Thanks to 10-Minute-Plays.com for the above guidelines.

Now – more specifically …

Here are some items for you to consider while writing a play to be performed in the 711 Theatre Project. These are areas judges may consider while critiquing your play. Also – don’t forget to check out our Format Yer Script page.

  1. When you read it aloud and pause for anticipated action/reaction – is it between 7 and 11 minutes in length? Keep in mind the time it might take for actors to exit and enter various parts of the stage. Also – remember the old adage “Less is more.” Don’t try to cram 20 minutes of material into 11 minutes. Shoot for that sweet-spot of 8 to 9 minutes.
  2. Is it a complete play with an engaging opening, build-up, climax, & resolution? If it reads more like a scene from a play/tv show/movie or a sketch from Saturday Night Live – find where you can punch it up to wrap it up.
  3. Does it have a major through-line and is it interesting? If it feels like it meanders about, find that hook that entices and enthralls the audience and judges.
  4. Are your characters distinct, developed? Do they have obstacles to overcome? What stakes do they have on the line? Know your actors – are their characters written with the actors strengths and weaknesses in mind making it easier for them to portray and helping the director focus more on action, visuals, other creative elements – rather than assisting in characterization.
  5. Are the visuals of their actions strong, clear, balanced with dialogue? Remember, actions speak louder than words.
  6. Does the dialogue advance the major action of the play or is it just fluff? Do the words properly portray the character performing them? Are they balanced with the visuals?
  7. Are your required elements in the play? As the playwright, you are the first person to be involved with the elements and the director and actors rely on you to give them the correct line, character and prop to use on stage.
  8. Overall, does the play utilize your genre as the prominent one? Is it entertaining? It doesn’t have to be funny to be entertaining – it has to be well written. We’ve had serious plays win “Best of Show” and other awards, as well as the funny ones. And remember – a good comedy will have dramatic moments and a good drama will have comedic moments – it’s all about timing.
  9. And finally – is the play unique or is it lost in what we’ve all seen before? Cliches can be used well – but don’t overdo it. Is it an ‘obvious’ play for the setting or have you put a left-turn in the script somewhere? If it is formulaic, don’t worry – just find those moments that make your play stand out.