Writing a play gives you the forum to discuss societal issues within the context of a story. Here are some tips on writing a play that will engage the audience’s mind and heart:
Before writing a play you should make sure that you are familiar with the great plays of all time. This includes classic text and modern theatre. Read the work of the great playwrights throughout history (Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Anton Chekhov, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, August Wilson, and many more!). Let these prolific playwrights inspire you to write your play on a high intellectual plane that will make not only entertain but make the audience think.
Every great play dealt with societal issues and ideas that were reflected in the story. Think of the ideas and issues you want to express (war, poverty, social injustice, domestic abuse, environmentalism, faith). Theatre is supposed to engage the audience in order to make them think. Don’t just write a play that will purely entertain. Let the play be a medium that discusses human nature and the struggles that people all have in common. If you engage the audience in this way you won’t have to worry about your play being entertaining.
Focus on the characters when writing the play. Before you begin, list out all the characters and write a biography for each one. Establish their motivations, conflicts, obstacles, and relationships. Let the characters drive the story and shape the plot. The audience will remember the characters more than the plot after they walk out of the theatre. Invest in making your characters believable people with real motivations.
You can buy software that helps you format your play into the industry standard (Final Draft, Movie Magic Screenwriter). This will help you focus on the characters/story rather than fumbling with all the formatting. Stage play format is unique in that it lists the characters and setting at the beginning of the play. Be specific when describing the world of the play. This gives the director, actors, stage/costume designer the platform to bring this world to life with their own creativity.
You can write your play in 1-5 acts depending on how long you want it to be. Keep in mind that you want the story (the characters’ journey) to have an arc. The classic method in doing this is three-prong: introduction of the characters/conflict, the conflict escalates to a climax (this is where most of the action takes place), the conflict is resolved. Not all plays follow this structure, but it is helpful to keep this in mind in order to give your characters a clear journey.
After you get feedback from other writers on your first draft, get some theatre artist together and have a staged reading of the play. This will give you a gauge on how the play will work on stage and how the dialogue will come across out loud. Seeing different interpretations of the dialogue and action will give you more ideas to add to the script.