Stage Play

Once again, I remind you, story is story, no matter where you find it. The form is the same in a stage play (conflict + action + resolution) as in any other kind of story. Traditionally it's Act One: conflict, Act

Two: action, Act Three: resolution. The difference is that it's all dialogue (no thoughts) and a confined space. As a beginning playwright, don't write anything that requires elaborate staging. Keep it simple and inexpensive to stage, with as few set changes as possible. Pay attention to the plays you see. Also, check out A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee.

Just like the screenplay form, the stage play form is totally logical. It's even simpler, since you can't get distracted worrying about camera angles, etc. Use white, 81/2 x 11 paper. You can't go wrong with twelve-point Courier type. Use a solid-color cover and bind it with a sturdy binder. Left margin is 11/2 inches. Right margin is 1 inch. Stage plays are eighty to one hundred pages long.

The first page inside the cover is the title page. The title should be centered 3 inches from the top of the page, underlined, in capitals.

Two spaces below is the description (e.g., "A Play in Three Acts"). Single-spaced below that is the word "by." Single-spaced below "by" is the author's name.


A Play in Three Acts by

Bill William

The copyright notice goes in the lower left-hand corner. Author's address and phone go in the lower right-hand corner.

On the page following the title page you list the characters. Type the word "CHARACTERS" in the center. The character list starts two spaces below, with the name at the far left and the description several spaces to the right. The description is single-spaced.

George Longman: A big, ham-handed, potbellied, tiny-footed yet graceful, maternal man.

Fred Fredrick: A thin, pale, fragile, yet vicious policeman.

If you have space, put the time and place on this page.

Time: The present.

Place: Chicago.

Page numbers are typed in the upper right-hand corner. The numbers start with the first page in the first scene. In one-act plays the page numbers appear alone. In multiple-act plays the act appears as a Roman numeral, followed by the page. Act One, page one is "1-1." If you have multiple scenes in an act, the scene number appears between the act and the page number. Act One, Scene Two, page 22 is "1-2-22." The page numbers are consecutive throughout. Don't start numbers over with a new scene or a new act.

We have the time and place, but we need to know the exact setting and what's taking place as the curtain rises. This is how to do it:

ACT I Scene 1

SETTING: Lunch counter with booths along the sides.

Pay phone near the door. Cash register on counter at right.


Manager, GEORGE, is standing at the cash register.

The lines of dialogue are single-spaced and run from the left margin to the right. Double-spacing is used between character's speeches. The characters are identified by their names in capitals in the middle of the page.


(singing sweetly to self)

I hate this job. I hate myself. I hate the world and everybody in it. This place is going down the drain, down the drain, down the drain, and I'm going with it.

If the stage direction (such as "singing sweetly to self" above) is more than one word, it goes on a separate line. If it's one word, it goes on the same line.

FRANK (sadly)

If two characters are talking at once, the format runs like this:

GEORGE Don't start with me today.

FRED You want me to leave? I'll go.

A scene ends with:


At the end of the play it's:


Those are the basics. Check out a few scripts and see how playwrights do it. There's nothing tricky about it. The main thing is that what's going on needs to be clear.

You copyright a play the same way as you do a screenplay (see above).

The procedure for marketing plays is different from that for other story forms—especially short stories and novels. With plays, it's about production, not publication. You want to get your play performed. You submit your play to 1. Theater and production companies, 2. Special programs, 3. Contests, and 4. Agents. The best way to find out how to do that is to check The Playwright's Companion, published by Feedback Theatre books. They do an excellent job of laying it all out. There's much more than we can do justice to here. A second book to look at is The Playwright's Handbook by Frank Pike and Thomas G. Dunn. Writer's Digest and The Writer magazines also regularly list upcoming play contests.

One thing to remember when marketing your material is to send it out, then get busy writing something else. Don't wait around for a reply.

Speaking of getting busy, let's do it. Here are some exercises. You also have lots of others from before. Pick something, anything, and write.


Trying to get fired.

Do Cinderella from the point of view of the stepmother and make her sympathetic.

Do Little Red Riding Hood from the point of view of the wolf and make him sympathetic.

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