Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Year of Becoming a Playwright

One year I decided to challenge myself by trying a new writing form. Like I had mastered the novel, right? Har de har har. Still, I love to learn new things.

I happened into this avenue of fiction serendipitously. After nearly 45 years out from my last theater experience, I auditioned for a community theater production in northern Arizona. To my delight (and fear), the director picked me for a role. I was thrilled that I might still have some of that acting spark I displayed decades ago, but I had crushing fear that I would no longer be able to learn lines. I did learn my lines, entry and exit cues, and increased my vocabulary with stage craft terms like downstage, stage right, and proscenium. 

However, I was cast as a 24 year-old nurse. I hadn’t seen 24 for four decades! Still, in community theater, who shows up for auditions is who gets cast. One of my writing group partners (also cast in a show—as a 20 year-old) and I realized there must be a niche for plays with older cast members. Relatively few of these plays are available to community theater groups in age-restricted areas. So, we decided we would write plays with older characters.

“How hard can it be?”, I wondered aloud to any and all who would listen to me blather on about my writing efforts. After all, I had several completed novels under my belt. Plays are a bunch shorter than a novel! Pshaw! Bring it on.

Playwrighting? Oh, the arrogance was palpable!

I had planned that summer to be the summer to finish a novel I had begun years ago. But, that didn’t happen. The play consumed my summer as surely as a whale dining on krill.
I read about scriptwriting. I learned proper play formatting and that it is different from screenplay formatting. But the thing I learned best, the most humbling thing, was that writing a play is darned hard work. And I didn’t just dash it off in a week or two as I had thought, in my arrogance, I would.

In my novels, I have paragraphs explaining the setting or character motivation or revelations that lead to plot points. I have words, lots and lots of words.

In a play, other than the set design and some stage directions that a director may or may not attend to, all you have is dialogue. The dialogue carries the story. Dialogue can’t be paragraphs long. It has to sound like real people speak since Shakespearean soliloquies are out of fashion and the Greek chorus disappeared long before Shakespeare.

I am delighted that I learned so many new things while completing my play, Ghost in the Pines. And, once the fourth draft was done, I shopped it around to various community theater groups to see if I could get it produced. Nope. I guess, like first novels, first plays are more of a learning adventure than a viable product. I may go back in, now years later, and see if a fresh eye can save what I thought was a pretty good premise. Whether or not it is ever performed, I learned a lot about writing dialogue that I transferred to novel writing. 

Additionally, I watch plays now to see how it was put together so that I can be a better playwright. What would the stage directions look like? Why is it important that the door open out? Oh, yes. The bug bit me. 

I took a workshop on writing one-act plays, I’ve given a workshop on writing one-act plays, I ran a contest judging one-act plays, and I have entered contests for one-act plays.
To date, three of my one-act plays have been performed by two different community theater groups. I have an idea for another full-length play and ideas for more short plays. Play writing is fun for me and a break from the novel writing I do. I find it recharges my batteries to work in a different form. 

If I keep it up, maybe some of them will be published and performed more widely. Hey! These plays could come to a theater near you!


  1. H, Sharon - I'd say that's success to have three of your one-act plays performed by two community theater groups. Good luck with your future endeavors. And, that it's fun for you ... all the better! :)
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal - Impartial, Straighforward Fiction Book Reviews

  2. Thanks, Diane! I am so behind in everything right now, but I'll be getting back to you about an August guest posting!