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Playwriting Tip: Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing Your Play

You’ve got the great idea. You’re ready to start writing. But how do you begin? And perhaps more arduously, how do you end? These are the big questions that plague us as writers. But to answer these big questions, it’s important to ask ourselves a series of small ones first.

Before you get into this, you’ll want to think through the trajectory of the story. The journey that your protagonist(s) will go on, what they’ll learn from it, and where they’ll end up is the center of your story. So maybe before writing anything at all, you try starting at the end.

You know who your protagonist is. You know what you want them to do. Forget the intricate details of the very start of your play.

Instead, ask yourself:

1. What are the obstacles my protagonist will ultimately overcome?

2. Do these obstacles get increasingly difficult?

3. How does my protagonist overcome them?

 

The key to a satisfying ending is the building of obstacles, raising the stakes and increasing tension over the course of the play. Identifying each one of these obstacles will help you determine how the play should end, concluding at the moment that the protagonist has risen above them. Whether those obstacles were actually resolved or not is up to you, but at the very least, your protagonist should fully realize their own arc after navigating these obstacles.

4. How does the antagonist play a role in the obstacles the protagonist faces?

5. How does the antagonist contribute to the conclusion of my play?

 Before the conclusion, there should be a climatic moment in which the protagonist faces the antagonist in one final showdown. Remember that the antagonist doesn’t have to be an actual character – sometimes societal factors or experiences are the real antagonist. Whatever your antagonist is, it’s essential that they come face-to-face with the protagonist. And however your protagonist emerges from that showdown is how they conclude the show.

6. What is the moral of my story?

7. What is the final thought that I want audiences to take home with them and chew on for days?

 

Any good story, regardless of its nature, should offer audiences new perspectives or insights on the world as they know it. The final moments of your play are critical in communicating this. Think about where your characters end up, what they say when they get there, and how they say it. It’s your characters’ responsibility as the vessel (through which you as the writer are communicating) to tell the audience what they need to know.

Now that you’ve established the conditions of your story that will bring you to your conclusion and make an impact on your audience once you’ve gotten there, you’re ready to go back to the beginning.

The beginning is just as crucial as the end, but it serves a very different function. While your ending delivers the statement of your show, your beginning tells the audience (or a reader to whom you’ve submitted your script to) why they should care.

To address this, ask yourself:

1. What’s my point of attack into the story?

2. What is the scenario in which my protagonist finds themself in and how does it give insight into where my protagonist is going to go?

3. What is my protagonist’s intention or mission?

 

Your play should never start at the beginning of the story. The audience must enter the story precisely before the incident that sets your character on their journey begins.

While the conflict may not have begun yet, your protagonist must have an intention or mission from the very start. This is how you tell your audience that they’re going to learn something, even if they aren’t sure exactly how or what they’re going to learn.

Think of this part as posing the question your protagonist is going to answer. Give the audience a sense of the protagonist’s motivation in finding the answer so that they’re interested in finding it too.

4. How will I set my protagonist on their journey?

5. How can I disrupt the status quo of the world my protagonist lives in?

 

You’ve posed the question to your audience, and now your protagonist must seek out the answer. It’s your job to determine what has set them on this quest to find it. You can do this by upsetting the equilibrium of the world your protagonist occupies. This forces your protagonist on a journey as they strive to restore the balance. Or maybe they know the world will never be the same from this point on, compelling them to take the journey anyway.

The rest of the story practically writes itself from here. You’ve already determined the question your play is addressing and the subsequent answer. You know what has set your protagonist on their mission and where they’re going to end up. The path seems pretty clear at this point, doesn’t it?

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