Introduction to Playwriting

Courses | 1,510 comments

There are few feelings more exciting than sitting in the back of a dark theatre watching live actors perform your words, while an audience laughs and cries or even shifts uncomfortably in their seats — and eventually bursts into applause. It’s like watching a chemical reaction that produces an incredible energy, an energy unique to the live stage. An energy that all begins with the playwright.

Whether you’ve never written anything before or you’re experienced in another kind of writing or you’re a playwright looking to sharpen your skills, “Introduction to Playwriting” offers clear, step-by-step guidance in the basics: character, conflict and structure, setting, dialogue and formatting. But that’s not all. Need to make that good script great? We’ll study more than a dozen elements you can use in the rewriting process to move your script up a level and then discuss what to do next in the development and submission process. And since many of the principles of playwriting apply to all forms of dramatic writing, taking “Introduction to Playwriting” is a great idea for screenwriters too. Not only will you come back to your screenwriting with fresh insight, but you might find that you like writing plays too.

What You’ll Learn:

  • The different types of stages and how to account for them in your writing
  • Three models for creating compelling characters
  • About four different play structures & which to use for your play
  • A guideline of events that occur in a play’s beginning, middle, and ending
  • The three “levels” of dialogue and how to use it to improve your story
  • How to format a play correctly
  • What to do next after you’ve finished writing a play

Who Should Take This Course:

  • For writers of all levels looking to learn the basics of writing for the stage.
  • Guides students through the process of writing a play from start to finish.
  • Discover the basics of the stage, the structure of a play, the proper format for your work, and how to prepare it for submission.
Session One: The Stage as a Unique Medium, Character and Conflict
  • Understanding the Stage – using the stage’s unique capabilities and learning what makes theatre different from film
  • Creating Characters – find the method for building characters that’s right for you
  • Tension of Opposites – give your characters internal tension and dimension
  • Conflict – placing the characters’ wants in opposition
Session Two: Setting, Structure and the Question of the Play
  • Setting – choosing the right when and where for your play to begin
  • Three Act Structure – the beginning, middle and end of a play
  • Alternate Play Structures – recognizing when your play may require a different organizing principle
  • The Question of the Play – keeping the audience on the edge of its collective seat
Session Three: Dialogue, Stage Directions and Format
  • Dialogue – making each character’s voice distinctive and memorable
  • Punctuation – the secret of making your intentions clear
  • Exposition – control the flow of information to keep your play moving and the audience engaged
  • Stage Directions – communicating the action clearly and succinctly
  • Formatting – giving your play that professional look
Session Four: Rewriting and What to Do Next
  • The Writer’s Web – a series of elements to explore to turn your good play into a great one
  • What to Do Next – the why and wherefores of play development and submission

Jonathan Dorf

Playwright and screenwriter Jonathan Dorf has had his plays produced in over forty-five states, as well as in Canada, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. He has been a finalist for the Actors Theatre of Louisville Heideman Award and has worked with such companies as the Walnut Street Theatre, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, Ensemble Studio Theatre – LA, Moving Arts and the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. He co-founded YouthPLAYS, the publisher of plays for young actors and audiences, and other plays are published by Playscripts, Brooklyn Publishers, Heuer, Original Works, Meriwether, and Smith & Kraus. He is the resident playwriting expert for Final Draft (for whom he created the playwriting “Ask the Expert”) and The Writers Store (creator of, the co-chair of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights and the former managing director of the Philadelphia Dramatists Center. He is also a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. For screen, he has written a trio of produced shorts, as well as a number of feature scripts. He has taught playwriting workshops at schools and festivals across the country and as far afield as Singapore, and most recently served as Visiting Associate Professor in the Hollins University (Roanoke, VA) MFA playwriting and children’s literature programs and as US cultural envoy to Barbados. He holds a BA in Dramatic Writing and Literature from Harvard University and an MFA in Playwriting from UCLA.

Courses this instructor teaches



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