Suggestions for Writing a Play or Musical


by Catherine Lamm
Casting & Literary Director


These are guidelines that address basic structure that even the most seasoned playwrights adhere to. Keeping these elements in mind in the beginning, when you first sit down to start your play, can save the writer from major rewrites.

The first question to be answered is "What one thing do you want to say about the human condition?" If you find that you are addressing two different aspects, say love and greed, you will want to be very careful that the two relate to each other in a fairly obvious way. Otherwise you are writing two plays.

This tale should be told through the action of one character, the leading character. On what one character flaw is the author focusing, how does this initiate the action of the play and how is this changed during the course of the play. It cannot be over stressed that keeping the action of the play moving forward through this character will help keep you on track.

Every scene that does not include the main character should be examined to make sure that it reflects back to the leading character, his/her character flaw and the theme of the play. And every character that is included should be a tool for the author to use to move the action on and keep it focused on this character. Think of these as "events." Every character and every scene that does not have an "event" that moves the plot forward can probably be eliminated. Harder to detect are two characters that serve the same dramatic function or can be consolidated into one. Thinking about how each character serves the plot before you start writing can help you avoid the reworking during rewrites.

The climax should be the point at which the lead character faces his flaw and deals with it or succumbs to it.

Is your play stageworthy? It is not a bad thing to think about the play on its feet. It will be difficult to find a producer to be interested in a play with fifty union soldiers in uniform and with three complete and realistic set changes. And a play that is 150 pages long will probably run longer than most audiences would be comfortable sitting through.

A good solid structure in a well-written play with interesting character and plot will not guarantee success. But any weakness can increase the likelihood of failure.

Your synopsis should include but is not limited to a summary or overview of the major plot points and characters in order to outline the main course of the plot in relatively simple terms. This should include an introduction of the characters, their relationships, the general time, place and plot as it relates to the main character, your theme ("What you want to say about the human condition") and the climax.