Tag Archives: stage directions

How to Write Useful Stage Directions

Playwriting 101

Playwriting 101

Oh my gosh!! I CANNOT believe it has been so long since my last post! Sorry about that but I’ve been a bit busy. For the past few months I’ve been in the process of moving cross country and I guess I lost track of my blog. Well let’s get cracking shall we?! For today’s post I’m going to talk to you about playwriting and specifically about stage directions and how not to use them.

Usually in the development and performance stages of a play there are three creative components; there’s playwright, the director, and then the actors. All three of parts are important but if they don’t find a way to work together, that’s when things usually go amiss.

Respect your positions as the writer and do not try to be the director/actor

Respect your positions as the writer and do not try to be the director/actor

The playwright has a lot of creative freedom while they’re trying to create the world of their play, but there are some limits particularly with stage directions. Stage directions are a great tool for the writer, but they can be used in a bad way. When writing a play the writer should shy away from using too many stage directions to spell out how every single line is supposed to be said and everything that’s supposed to happen during every moment of their scenes. If they do that they are taking away from the creative opportunities of both the director and the actors to make character choices. One of the most fun things about theatre is that the same play with the same lines can be performed in two completely different ways depending on how the directors and actors choose to interpret the script. I remember once my acting teacher gave my class a scene that was just dialogue and had no stage directions or anything. There was no setting, there were no characters, there were just lines. We split into five groups and even though we all had the same lines we came up with five individual and unique scenes.

EXAMPLE OF WHAT NOT TO DO WIT STAGE DIRECTIONS (note WordPress formatting won’t let me put this in proper playwriting format but if you check my Pages I going to put some links to guide you through formatting your play):

MAN (looking at his watch) I’m late.

WOMAN (yawning) Late for what?

MAN (grabbing his coat) I don’t know that. If I knew that I wouldn’t be late.

WOMAN (sarcastically) Well have fun then

Even though this scene was very short every single line had either an action or an emotion tied to it. A lot of playwrights overuse stage directions because they’re an easy way to get the director/actors to see exactly how they envisioned their play to look and sound, but if you write your dialogue well enough then they should be able to see what you’re aiming for without too many directions. I tend to keep my stage directions down to a minimum. My general rule is to only use them for:

1. Character entrances/exits

2. An action sequence like a fight

3. Sound and light cues

Shakespearean cats make everything better!!!

Shakespearean cats make everything better!!!

It’s important to remember that stage directions offer the writer no guarantee the directors/actors will even listen. The stage directions aren’t set in stone, there’s not law which says that they have to listen to you. My one friend wrote a play which was about thirty pages, but nearly half of those pages were stage directions. Our playwriting teacher looked at her and said “I am telling you this as a person who has directed a lot of plays in the past, but if I was given this as a director I the first thing I would tell my actors would be to ignore nearly all of your directions because you’ve reached past your position as the writer.”

If you have play that is heavy on the technical elements then you might have to give the director a few more notes but just remember your place as the writer. Your job is just to set the scene; it’s up to the director and actors to decide what to do with it.

Exercise of the Day

Exercise of the Day

Exercise of the Day: The Seven Deadly Sins

Create 7 characters using the 7 deadly sins as inspiration. The sins are:

Pride

Sloth (laziness)

Lust

Greed

Wrath

Gluttony

Envy

Write a scene with all seven characters. Think of the sin that the character is based on and how that will inform their behavior, also think of how all of the sins would interact with one another. This scene can be comedic, dramatic or whatever you decide to make it.

Have fun with this and I will see you next time!! Feedback and comments are more than welcome! Oh and try giving this writing exercise to some of your other writing friends and see what they come up with!

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Filed under Creative, Creative writing, Dialogue, Ideas, Playwriting, Writing