Student Guide to Playwriting: Getting Started

In the run up to the launch of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting book, here is the first in a series of blogs on top tips from the lesson plan writers.

 These tips on Getting Started are written by Rob Drummer, former Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre and Artistic Director of Boundless Theatre.

Rob Drummer


It might be helpful to start with what a play is, in its simplest form, so how about the following definition:

 “A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading.” 

The most important thing here is to remember that a play is intended for performance, to be experienced by an audience and to be performed by actors, so the words on the page are only the beginning. They are like the plans for a building or even a sketch prepared before a painting. A lot of the making of a new play happens with the script as a starting point, even when all of the dialogue is spoken.  Remember as a playwright you are telling stories with words and pictures.


I like to also consider what a playwright is, so how about the following definition:

If you think about how the word playwright is spelt it has more in common with a shipwright or a wheelwright and that is to say that they are both makers, contributing to a much larger process.  The playwright is vital but also is one of the collaborators in the making of the play. 

In my experience we all write differently, I’ve yet to meet two playwrights who mirror each other’s writing habits or who approach writing plays in identical ways. Of course there are shared ways of working and similarities and one thing that is the same across the board is that we all need to start somewhere.

It is fair to say that plays come in all shapes and sizes and the more you read the more you will realise there are lots of ways to write, to arrange your writing on the page but there are some rules you could start to follow.


  1. Some Ways To Format Your Play On The Page

I’m going to begin with some advice in terms of formatting:

  1. Start each new line of dialogue on a new line and include the character name at the start of the line.
  2. If you are using stage directions, separate them from dialogue on the page and perhaps use italics, less is usually more and keep them limited to essential action that is vital to the storytelling.
  3. Generally speaking, a big shift in time or location means a new scene might be useful, have a think about time and place and make a decision if your play works best with a break in the middle (the interval) or if it is best experienced in one sitting, over ninety minutes.
  4. Consider the sound of your dialogue, the rhythm and pace of your play and think about characters who might interrupt each other, or might trail off at the end of a sentence. Some interesting ways to represent this include:

… represents a character trailing off at the end of a sentence, perhaps lost in thought.

/ represents a point of interruption, where the next character overlaps with their dialogue

  1. Finally, always remember that page numbers are really helpful, your name and the title of the play should appear at least on the cover page and a character breakdown can be really helpful to anybody reading your play for the first time.

Keep an eye on this blog for more top tips from the lesson plan writers. Next up, Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre young writers programme, blogs about finding good ideas for your plays.

For more information on and to attend the launch of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting book click here.