When is a play done?

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You’ve written a first draft, second draft, and so on. You feel you’ve done all you can do with the script, when it’s just you and the script. How do you know when a play is ready to move on to the next phase?

How do you know it’s ready to go out into the world?

You’ve received feedback

It’s not enough for you to think your play is ready, you need to find out if it resonates with others. That doesn’t mean you have to change your play to suit the whim of every respondent, nor should you. But your play will not and should not exist in a vacuum. That means you have to get some reaction.

If you get positive feedback from at least 3 respondents ( don’t put all your eggs in one basket) consider yourself on the right track.

You’ve heard the play

There’s no such thing as silent reading in theatre. Reading your words or hearing the lines in your head will work only up to a point. You need to hear your play read aloud by others. You need to focus all your energy on listening for awkward dialogue, repeated dialogue, sentences that confuse the readers. You’re listening for how long it takes to set up a character or a scene – are you overwriting or is your script sharing just what it needs to keep an audience on the edge of their seat? A text at it’s best is going to be clean, efficient and orally engaging.

I would suggest you plan on two readings during your process. In fact, I would plan a rewrite schedule like this: 1st draft – 2nd draft – feedback – 3rd draft – reading – 4th draft – reading.

If you’ve heard your play and you’re satisfied the dialogue is clean, efficient and engaging, (or the changes you have to make are cosmetic rather than surgical) feel confident that you’re ready to move on.

What next?

A play is not a play until it’s produced. This is the hardest step for so many writers, especially those who don’t have access to theatres, actors or directors. But in order to fully complete your work, it has to be staged in front of an audience. But that’s a whole other adventure…

17 Questions to Ask in the Dog Days of Writing


You’re deep into your draft. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter every day. Here are 17 questions to ask yourself in the dog days of writing. If you know the answers, you’re headed to the finish line with your script.

1. Why does the world of the play matter?
2. What makes my story specific and unique?
3. How does each scene advance the journey of the play?
4. Is there anything I’m holding on to in the script, even if it doesn’t advance the journey? Why?
5. Is there any time I repeat myself? If so, why is it important to the story to repeat that information?
6. What style am I writing in?
7. Why is this style necessary to the world of the play?
8. How do my main characters change from the beginning to the end of the play?
9. What are the flaws in my main characters?
10. What makes my main character specific and unique?
11. Why does the main conflict matter?
12. Who is my audience?
13. What do I like about my audience?
14. How do I want to challenge my audience?
15. What do I like about this play?
16. What do I love about this play?
17. What challenges me about this play?

What happens when you strip away?


What story does your dialogue tell if you strip away everything else?

  • No character descriptions.
  • No setting descriptions.
  • No stage directions.
  • No emotional directions.

Just the words.

Take a scene and remove everything but the dialogue and look at what you have left. Are you relying on the externals to get your point across? Can you identify a moment where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when you just read the dialogue?

Or does just seeing the dialogue make you realize how much you’re saying. Is there any place you can make your dialogue more efficient?

One of the most important jobs for the writer is to communicate efficiently. That means being specific with your characters and what they have to say. Use less words to create your world and your images. Having too much “talking” in the stage directions and the externals is a part of that efficiency.

How do you use less to say more?

The importance of rewrites


The importance of rewrites

It is a common misconception that writing happens in a complete block of time. The idea happens, the writing flows, and when you get to the end of your piece – the writing is done. When the fact of the matter is the first draft is only the beginning. There are rewrites, more rewrites and more rewrites.

This image of the writing process often stops many would be writers in their tracks.  But rewrites are an essential and necessary part to make your work the best it can be.

What does it mean to rewrite?

Writing can only improve when you dig deeper into the why. When you write something you’re initially concerned with the what. What’s happening?  What is the journey from point A to point B? As you write, you address what’s happening and you’ve figured how to make it happen.  This is why writing a first draft is so satisfying.

But it’s only the beginning.  Start asking why. Instead of what happens next, ask the question,  “why does this happen?” Why does this character choose this action, say this line, make this decision?  You can even question yourself, why am I writing this? The more you question your writing, the more specific, effective and effecient your writing will be. The why of your work will take it to the next level.

Where do I start with rewrites?

  • Go through your work and write down any questions. Circle anything that does flow. Put a question mark beside anything you don’t like.
  • Write a synopsis of the piece. Can you concisely describe the work from beginning to end? If not where do you get hung up?
  • Create a character profile for your main characters. Where do they come from? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their memories? What is their relationships? You have a sense of who the character is through the first draft, now go deep with the minute details. Even if you don’t use a single detail you will truly know your characters. And more importantly you’ll be able to compare the charcter in the first draft to the character in the proflie. Do they differ.

Rewrites can feel less rewarding than a first draft because they can take so much time to complete. Sometimes a single sentence may take an hour. But if you dive into the piece by asking why, by going deeper with your characters, you cannot help but come out the other end with a much improved work. The best you could possibly deliver to your audience.


Where do you write?


Where do you write?

Behind closed doors? In a den? In a comfy chair? At the kitchen table? At a noisy coffee shop?

Where do you write?

I have a desk. I don’t use it. For me, it all comes down to the chair and my desk chair doesn’t do it for me.  Also, if I sit at my desk, I’m staring at the wall. That’s no good.  If I sit on the couch, I have a view of the street. I’ve learned that looking out the window is an important part of my writing atmosphere.

Where do you write?

The right writing atmosphere is important.  This has nothing to do with being “inspired” to write.  If you’re uncomfortable, too hot, feeling closed in, the room is too quiet or too noisy, these annoyances become easy excuses to walk away from the page. Rid your surroundings of annoyances to fully focus on your writing.

And don’t write in a place because you’re supposed to. You don’t have to write in silence in a stuffy den, unless you thrive on that kind of atmosphere. It won’t make you less of a writer to sit in the garage to work. The best place to write, is the one that gets words on the page for you.

Where do you write?




Do you need a writing time out?

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Do you need a break from your writing?

That is a valid question. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at writing. It doesn’t mean you’re burned out. Everybody needs a break from time to time. In fact it’s essential that you take a break from writing.

I feel one of the things that has allowed me to write continually for so many years is taking breaks. Sometimes I throw a draft in a drawer for not a day or two – it’s more like a couple of weeks. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t open that drawer till I’m ready.

That time away allows me to return to my script with a new perspective and fresh eyes. Problems don’t seem as monumental as they did before. The flow of ideas feels less stodgy.

Most times, taking a break doesn’t mean I stop writing altogether – but there’s no pressure. I’ll scribble a couple of notes. I’ll write down an observation. I want to keep up my habit of consistent writing but in a relaxed fashion. It’s all writing. There are no rules or quotas to fill.

Alternatively, I might work my creative muscles in a different way. I’ll go to a play, go to a gallery. I’ll go for a walk and really focus on observing the world around me. This is part of your process. Being out in the world will make you a better writer.

Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed if you’re so stuck with a work you have to walk away. Take a break. Take yourself on an artist’s date. Your brain will thank you and so will your writing.


Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday


Observation: A guy gets out of a van in a rest stop parking lot. We have just pulled in and we’re also getting out of our car at the same time. The guy looks at us and says “Are you good at finding baby mice?” We say no and move on. This is one of the stranger questions I think I’ve ever been asked by a stranger. I don’t know why this guy needed baby mice, or if there were baby mice on the lose in his van, or if that was his way of breaking the ice with another human being. But it made my day as writer because I got to write down the awesome line – Are you good at finding baby mice?

How can you use it? Use it as the first line in a scene. A guy goes up to a girl and asks “Are you good at finding baby mice?” What happens next? How can you make the girl not want to run away screaming (if she does, it’s a short scene.) Now change the character who says the first line – make it a girl who asks the question of a guy. How does the scenario change? You can change it up again by making the question come from a child. Change it up again by giving the first line to a grandmother. Same first line with a vast number of possibilities…. have fun with it, it’s a great way to start  a scene.

Have you Ever Tried to Write Wrong?


We’re all so concerned with being right. Our writing has to be perfect. It has to have the right beginning and the right ending. The characters have to be exactly right. If our work isn’t right, then we’re wrong, we’re a failure, we’re bad.

But is that really true? Is it so bad to write wrong? To try to write in the wrong direction?

Have you ever tried to take your writing in the wrong direction on purpose?

I heard a story attributed to Quincy Jones (I know it’s ridiculous to say it like that but I wanted to be clear I’m adding on to something I heard elsewhere) where he told a group of acting students just that. “Have you ever tried to take your work as far wrong as possible? Have you ever tried to see the beauty of being wrong once you’re there? Have you ever tried to go wrong, enjoy the experience and then figure out the steps to make it right?”

These are all fabulous questions for all of us in the creative field. I tell students all day long – it’s ok to fail, we learn from our mistakes not from our successes, we have to fail – and yet it’s the hardest thing to do. We live in a world of right and wrong where right is good and wrong is bad. And it’s especially hard in that world where everything is recorded and broadcast to fail safely. How can a playwright try something out in front of an audience without the worry of being told they’re wrong?

And yet, I love the concept of “find the beauty in being wrong. Enjoy the experience of being wrong and then find your way back.”

Use this concept as an 2nd draft exercise.

If you’re working on a piece and it’s not going well stop trying to find the right answer.  Take a character in the absolute wrong direction. Have them do things you know this character would never do. Have this character steal something. Stalk someone. Take drugs. Have this character kill another character and deal with the after math. Stop trying to figure out the problems in the plot and throw more problems in. Make a mess and then step back.

You may find the answer you never knew you were looking for. You may find that being wrong is the exact right thing to do. And at the very least you’ll have a creative experience. We spend too much time trying to be right with our writing.

Spend some time being absolutely wrong.



The Writing Process

What’s my writing process? Let’s find out.

This is my first experience with a bloghop. The idea is to share the writing process of participating authors.  The Struggling Writer passed the baton to me and you can read his response to the questions here. You can also see which writer he got the questions from.

Here are my answers…..

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What are you working on?

I have a habit of doing too much and as I answer this question I feel a little overwhelmed just looking at the list. I have a middle school play in rehearsal and it opens next week so I’m at rehearsals making final tiny changes. I also have a full length play going into production next February but the theatre company is gearing up for a workshop at the end of September so that’s my deadline. I’m also doing a lot of educational writing – lesson plans, articles,  rubrics oh my! My writing life is really varied. I just would like to be doing less things. But there’s so much to write…

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

What a great question! My work resides squarely in the theatre in education genre and because of that I have a pretty specific focus on process over production. What I mean by that is the process that the students acting in the play go through is just as important (or more important) to the students watching the final production. Connecting to an audience is always key and you have to write with your audience in mind – but – I’m also thinking about the student actor experience: having enough good parts so that an entire class can put on the play, easy staging and costuming, creating a theatrical experience.

Why do you write what you do?

I love writing for the school market. I feel there’s no group more enthusiastic, open, daring, or energetic than the high school drama production. It’s a joy to watch them work. Further, I don’t know if I believe theatre in the adult world actually has any impact or influence. Does theatre change lives anymore? I do know theatre has impact and influence at the school level. Just being in a production can change a student’s life. And it doesn’t matter what the play is either. It could be intense and dramatic, it could be fluffy and total fun. It’s the act that matters.

How does your writing process work?

I always start with pen and paper. I haven’t got to a point where I can create on computer. Call me an old lady but the act of writing with a pen is just so utterly satisfying. I feel more creative with a pen and paper. When I start writing it’s all scrawl. There are notes, point form lists, snatches of dialogue, ideas, lines crossed out. There is no rules and there are no bad ideas. It’s a true honeymoon stage. It’s my favourite phase of writing.



Having said that I wouldn’t give up my lap top for the world. Because there always comes a time when I’m tired of writing things out and I want the structure of a formatted play. Once I transfer to the computer I focus on getting from the beginning to the end of a cobbled together first draft. I’m still  not worrying about plot holes or character questions but I do want to put together a first draft that makes some sense. This is my do draft. I just get’er done.

Then I move on to the why draft where I question everything. Why does this happen? Why does this character act in this way? This is the most painful stage because one question can derail the whole writing process. Once I get through the first why draft I’m ready to start showing my work to others.

I have a trusted reader who I show my work to and he’s the first person who sees anything I write. If I get the thumbs up from him then it’s time to start seeing the work on it’s feet. A play is not a play until it is produced. And that means first a reading and then a workshop and finally a fully staged production.

And then the process starts all over again….

The Next Step

I have passed the baton to Bradley Hayward a fellow playwright. When he answers the writing process questions you’ll be able to them on his blog. Enjoy!