Tuesday, June 16, 2015

5 Tips for Turning a Short Story into a Short Play into a Short Story

As I wrote on June 3rd, I tried play writing as a challenge and arrogantly assumed it was easier than novel writing. Ha!

Well, having my comeuppance was good for me, but I continue to write short plays, some of which I created out of short stories I’ve written and some are original short plays that I can turn into short stories. My tips for doing that are further down.

I got a compliment at a critique group meeting. Or at least I am taking it as a compliment. It was couched in a criticism of my descriptions of characters and setting. To use the vernacular, I “suck” at descriptions. And my critiquer agreed. But the compliment came in the form of what we in the school-discipline business called a “re-direction.”

“I see you as a playwright. You are so plot-driven. In your plays, that comes out. I can see why it is harder for you to do the descriptions in novels. That is not your focus.” Or something sorta kinda like that. 

So, am I a “natural” playwright (HA!), thereby giving me permission to ignore setting except in the case of stage directions, costuming, and set design? Or am I a non-observer who hides behind scenes and acts and minimal stage directions, incapable of taking my reader to where my characters are?

Hmm. Knotty problem, eh?

But does it matter? 

Well, yes, if I continue to write novels, it matters a great deal. If I just want to write plays, maybe lack of description is less important. But, no, that’s not it, either.

The better I can see my characters, the richer the setting is to me, the easier it is to write dialogue that is consistent with my play. And that would be true with novels as well, right?

But maybe that’s why I like to write plays. I can imagine it all, but I don’t have to put it down for the world. Plays are interpreted by directors and actors all the time. You ever wonder why so many people watch the same play with different actors? Maybe it is that interpretation, the nuanced scenes.

So how do you write a short play from a short story? The process of turning one into the other is pretty simple. Here’s how I do it:

How to adapt a short story to a short play:
1) Read over your short story synopsis.
2) Identify 3-5 key ideas in the short story,
3) Identify characters needed for the key ideas.
4) Pick out dialogue from the short story that carries the key ideas.
5) Paralleling the short story, write scenes and link them with transitions.

It’s that easy. I can go the other way, too. I have written original short plays that can be short stories simply by expanding the range of scenes and characters a wee bit.

Give it a try if you haven’t. Let my know how it goes for you.


  1. I admire (and envy) anyone who can write a story at all, much less transition them to plays and vice-versa. A talent I don't have, but am hoping to change at the next NaNoWriMo. I'm going to take the plunge and try to write a short story. :)
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal - Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

  2. Plays are fun to play with. I am so bad at desciption, so this is swell for me! lol