Ever feel like your playwriting is stuck in Act One, Scene One? Here’s your escape route to Act Two.
Here is how to get unstuck when writing a play:
Unstick your playwriting by exploring character backstories, experimenting with dialogues, rearranging scenes, introducing new conflicts, mixing genres, and using monologues for depth. Each method enriches narrative and character development.
In this guide, you’ll learn all my best tips and techniques for getting unstuck when writing screenplays.
21 Tips for Getting Unstuck When Writing a Play
These 21 tips are your map to overcoming sticking points and breathing life into your play.
1. Character Carousel: Rediscover Your Characters
When you hit a creative block, turn back to your characters.
Spend time exploring their deeper motivations, histories, and relationships. This deep dive often uncovers hidden aspects of your story.
Ask yourself what each character truly wants, what they fear the most, and how their past experiences have shaped them.
This introspection can reveal new plot lines, conflicts, or resolutions that you hadn’t previously considered.
Example: If your protagonist feels flat, create a character journal detailing their life before the play’s events. This backstory might reveal a pivotal event that can become a key turning point in your play.
2. Dialogue Dance: Let Characters Speak Freely
Allow your characters to converse without the constraints of your current plot.
Write dialogues where they express their innermost thoughts or engage in debates. This method can unveil hidden aspects of their personalities and relationships, which can lead to new plot directions.
Focus on how their language reflects their background and current state of mind.
Example: If you’re unsure how two characters relate, write a dialogue where they discuss a neutral topic like their favorite childhood memories. This exercise can reveal underlying tensions or affinities that could become central to your story.
3. Scene Shuffle: Rearrange for Inspiration
If you’re feeling stuck, try rearranging the scenes in your play.
This can offer a new perspective on the narrative flow and character development.
Sometimes, placing a later scene earlier in the script can highlight missing links or inspire new ideas.
By shuffling scenes, you might discover a more compelling way to tell your story.
Example: If a crucial revelation scene feels premature, move it to a later point in the play. This shift could build more suspense and give earlier scenes a chance to deepen the characters and their motivations.
4. Setting Switch: Change the Scenery
Altering the setting of your play can dramatically shift its dynamics and open up new creative avenues.
A different time period or location can bring fresh challenges and opportunities for your characters.
Consider how changing the setting might influence the plot and the characters’ choices.
Example: If your play feels stagnant in a contemporary urban setting, reimagine it in a rural setting a century ago. This change can introduce new social constraints and conflicts, revitalizing the story and characters’ interactions.
5. Conflict Catalyst: Introduce New Challenges
Introducing a new conflict or unexpected event can jolt your story out of a standstill.
Think about what obstacles or surprises could disrupt the status quo in your play.
A new conflict should test your characters and potentially alter their paths.
Example: If your narrative is losing momentum, introduce a surprise character who challenges the protagonist’s goals. This newcomer’s actions could force your main characters to make tough decisions, reinvigorating the plot.
6. Subplot Splice: Add Layers to Your Story
Incorporating a subplot can add depth to your play and provide a fresh perspective on the main narrative.
A well-crafted subplot can complement the main story, offering contrast or additional insight into the themes and characters.
Example: If your main plot revolves around a family drama, introduce a subplot involving a side character’s personal struggle. This subplot can serve as a mirror or contrast to the main storyline, adding complexity and richness to the overall narrative.
7. Genre Blend: Mix and Match Styles
Combining elements of different genres can unlock new creative possibilities.
This approach allows you to break free from traditional narrative structures and expectations.
Think about how blending genres could create unique tensions or highlight themes in unexpected ways.
Example: If you’re writing a serious drama, infuse moments of dark comedy. This blend can provide relief from the intensity while also deepening the impact of the dramatic moments, offering a nuanced view of the characters’ experiences.
8. Monologue Momentum: Explore Inner Worlds
Crafting a powerful monologue can offer insight into a character’s inner world and serve as a catalyst for plot development.
A monologue can reveal a character’s deepest fears, hopes, or secrets, potentially shifting the direction of the play.
Example: If you feel disconnected from a character, write a monologue where they express their innermost desires or conflicts. This exercise can deepen your understanding of the character and suggest new plot developments.
9. Rhythm Remix: Play with Pace
Altering the pace and rhythm of your play can dramatically affect its tone and narrative flow.
Experiment with fast-paced, dialogue-driven scenes to build tension or slow, contemplative moments to allow for character reflection.
This variation in pacing can keep the audience engaged and make your story more dynamic.
Example: If a scene feels monotonous, introduce a rapid-fire exchange between characters. This change in tempo can heighten the drama and reveal new facets of the characters’ relationships.
10. Perspective Pivot: Shift Viewpoints
Changing the narrative perspective can offer a fresh take on your story.
Consider telling parts of your play from a different character’s viewpoint.
This shift can provide new insights into the plot and the dynamics between characters.
Seeing the story through the eyes of a secondary character, for instance, can highlight aspects of the main characters or the plot that were previously overlooked.
Example: If your play primarily focuses on the protagonist, try writing a scene from the antagonist’s perspective. This can reveal their motivations and add depth to their character, making the conflict more nuanced and engaging.
11. Workshop Wisdom: Seek External Feedback
Sometimes, the key to getting unstuck is getting an outside perspective.
Attend a playwriting workshop or share your script with trusted peers. Fresh eyes can spot plot holes, character inconsistencies, or untapped potential that you might have missed.
Constructive feedback can be invaluable in pushing your script to the next level.
Example: If you’re unsure about a particular character’s believability, getting feedback from others can provide insights into how the character is perceived and what might be missing in their portrayal.
12. Historical Hook: Draw from the Past
Incorporating historical elements into your play can provide a rich backdrop against which your story unfolds.
History can offer conflicts, settings, and themes that add depth and complexity to your narrative.
Researching historical events or figures related to your play’s theme can spark new ideas and directions for your story.
Example: If your play feels aimless, consider setting it against a significant historical event. This can provide a structured framework for your narrative and inspire new plot points and character arcs.
13. Future Glimpse: Imagine What’s Next
Projecting your characters into the future can help you understand where your story is headed.
This forward-looking technique can clarify your characters’ ultimate goals and the play’s final resolution.
It can also provide a sense of direction for the narrative, guiding you through current sticking points.
Example: If you’re struggling with how to end your play, write a scene set several years in the future. This scene can reveal the long-term consequences of your characters’ actions, helping you to backtrack and fill in the necessary events leading up to this future.
14. Cultural Canvas: Explore Diverse Backgrounds
Bringing in elements from different cultures can add new dimensions to your play.
Exploring cultural themes, traditions, or conflicts can enrich your characters and plot, providing a broader context for your story.
This approach can also make your play more relevant and relatable to a diverse audience.
Example: If your play is set in a multicultural community, delve into the cultural backgrounds of your characters. This can introduce unique conflicts, relationships, and themes that reflect the complex dynamics of a diverse society.
15. Technology Twist: Include Modern Elements
Integrating modern technology or contemporary issues into your play can make it more relevant and engaging for today’s audience.
Consider how current technological trends or social issues could impact your characters or the plot.
This approach can also add a layer of commentary on modern life.
Example: If your play feels disconnected from contemporary audiences, introduce a plotline involving social media or digital technology. This can create new conflicts and themes related to privacy, communication, and identity in the digital age.
16. Nature’s Narrative: Use the Environment
Incorporating the natural environment into your play can provide a unique setting and thematic elements.
Nature can serve as a backdrop, a metaphor, or even a character in your story.
Consider how the environment interacts with your characters and influences the plot.
Example: If your urban-set play feels claustrophobic, shift some scenes to a natural setting like a forest or a beach. This change can offer a contrast to the urban environment and bring new perspectives to your characters’ experiences.
17. Improv Impulse: Embrace Spontaneity
Using improvisation techniques can help you discover unexpected plot twists and character reactions.
Allow your characters to act out scenes without a predetermined script.
This method can generate spontaneous and authentic interactions that you can incorporate into your play.
Example: If a scene feels forced or unnatural, gather a few actors to improvise the scene. Observe their interactions and dialogue, and use these spontaneous moments to rewrite the scene more authentically.
18. Silence’s Symphony: Utilize the Power of Pause
Employing strategic silences in your play can be as powerful as dialogue.
Silence can create tension, convey emotion, or allow for reflection.
Think about moments in your play where silence could speak louder than words.
Example: If a heated argument scene feels too verbose, insert a moment of silence at its peak. This pause can amplify the emotional intensity and give the audience time to absorb the impact of the preceding dialogue.
19. Dream Divergence: Incorporate Surreal Elements
Adding dream sequences or surreal elements can open up new realms of creativity in your play.
These sequences can offer insights into a character’s subconscious, provide symbolic commentary.
Or simply offer a visually and emotionally engaging break from reality.
Example: If your plot feels too linear or predictable, introduce a dream sequence for one of your characters. This can offer a glimpse into their fears, desires, or hidden memories, adding a layer of depth and complexity to the narrative.
20. Memory Lane: Flashbacks as a Narrative Tool
Utilizing flashbacks can provide valuable backstory and context for your characters and their actions.
This technique allows you to reveal crucial information and motivations at strategic points in the play, enhancing the depth and richness of the narrative.
Example: If a character’s motivation seems unclear, a flashback to a defining moment in their past can illuminate their current behavior. For instance, a flashback showing a character experiencing loss or betrayal can explain their present trust issues or resilience.
21. Audience Address: Break the Fourth Wall
Directly engaging with the audience by breaking the fourth wall can add an element of surprise and involvement.
This technique can be used to provide commentary, advance the plot, or simply add a layer of meta-humor to the play.
Example: If a scene feels too enclosed or the plot too straightforward, have a character directly address the audience, sharing their thoughts or questioning the events unfolding. This can create a connection with the audience and offer a fresh perspective on the story.
Here is a great video that will help you learn how to get unstuck when writing a play:
How Do You Get Yourself Unstuck When Writing a Play? (Read This Chart)
This table can guide you in applying specific strategies to overcome common challenges in playwriting.
Each tip is designed to tackle a particular aspect of writing a play, helping you move past hurdles and enrich your script.
|Common Sticking Points When Writing a Play
|Tips to Apply
|Developing multi-dimensional characters
|Character Carousel: Rediscover Your Characters
|Creating engaging and meaningful dialogues
|Dialogue Dance: Let Characters Speak Freely
|Finding the right sequence for scenes
|Scene Shuffle: Rearrange for Inspiration
|Choosing an impactful setting
|Setting Switch: Change the Scenery
|Introducing and handling conflicts
|Conflict Catalyst: Introduce New Challenges
|Weaving in subplots without losing focus
|Subplot Splice: Add Layers to Your Story
|Balancing different genres and tones
|Genre Blend: Mix and Match Styles
|Revealing character’s inner thoughts and motives
|Monologue Momentum: Explore Inner Worlds
|Maintaining an engaging pace throughout the play
|Rhythm Remix: Play with Pace
|Offering fresh perspectives and twists
|Perspective Pivot: Shift Viewpoints
Final Thoughts: How To Get Unstuck When Writing a Play
When your playwriting hits a wall, it’s just a scene change in disguise.
Keep leaping walls with more great writing advice — check out one of the blog posts I’ve hand-selected for your below.
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