Student Blog: HOW Hard to Be the Bard? Pt 2 – The Script

Playwriting tips and tricks from a young writer.

By: Aug. 28, 2023
Student Blog: HOW Hard to Be the Bard? Pt 2 – The Script
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In my last entry, I covered playwriting tips for outlining and creating the idea for a strong play or musical. Go check part one, “The Plan”, out first if you haven’t! Now that we’ve covered how to make a solid plan for the piece you’re trying to write, there comes a time to put that plan into action and give a shot at the writing portion! Here’s my advice on how to kickstart your script and bring your planned piece to life.

Getting to the actual writing part is typically what people anticipate the most when writing a play, as it’s “the fun part.” Even so, while starting your piece is exciting, you want to make sure you do it right. So to that I say– CHECK YOUR FORMAT! While it may seem like not a huge deal, the written format of a play and musical is super important when it comes to contests, submissions, and having your piece performed. There’s more than one format that is deemed “correct” when it comes to writing a play (or musical), so find one that works for you and stick to it while writing! This can mean font, font size, line spacing, what is and isn't bolded or italicized, what should be centered and what shouldn’t– nitty gritty things like that. If you’re not sure where to start, pick up a play! Google a script to a show and when you find one that looks clean and doable to you, go off of that (It can also be a little hard to tell font size when reading something, so as a tip, usually scripts are written/typed in 12 point font)! 

Once you have the proper format for your dialogue– let’s talk dialogue. Theatre in itself is a mimic of life, and where many pieces fall flat is dialogue that doesn’t realistically mimic how people talk. Now, this can vary depending on the type of show you’re writing; the script of a Disney musical will have a different style of dialogue than a realism straight play. The important part is just knowing the type of speech you’re looking to portray, and matching your writing style to that. If you’re writing a comedy or a musical, you have a bit more room for heightened emotion and animation when it comes to dialogue, as these types of shows tend to be a bit less realistic. If you’re working on a more serious piece or a straight play, think about the words you’re writing very carefully, as the main focus is the text opposed to the spectacle of big song and dance numbers. While these are good basic outlines for dialogue, in any show you write you want to make sure that the words feel like authentic conversations between your characters. In part one of this entry, I mentioned how much I personally utilize my peers to assist in my writing process, and something I do constantly is have people I know do read-throughs of what I’m working on to see how it sounds when read aloud. This helps test the natural flow of the scenes to see how they sound when acted out, and can help tremendously when it comes to getting a feel for its authenticity. 

Along with dialogue, if you’re working on a musical, the music and song placement itself is very important. Know what style of music you’re trying to write before going in, whether contemporary musical theatre, golden age, rock, pop, doo-wop, jazz, operatics, or so on. All of the songs in your show should have a one style that they stick to to keep things consistent and set the overall tone of the show. You’ll want to think about why you’re choosing this style of music opposed to another. Most contemporary musicals nowadays stick to a contemporary musical theatre sound, with shows like Waitress, Be More Chill, Mean Girls, etc, but choosing a distinct style other than that can assist in the storytelling of the show. Steven Sater, who famously did the book and lyrics for Spring Awakening, said that the reason he chose punky rock music for the show was that he wanted to highlight the heightened feelings the young teenagers were going through in the show, and felt that the “in your face” frustrated feel of the songs really drove that home– this is one of my favorite examples of a shows music style affecting the way it’s told. Picking a style of music that reflects the plot and companies the story well will make your show that much stronger and purposeful– so take your time thinking about what will best work with your script! Another “checklist”-y thing is to make sure you cover all the bases for types of songs in shows. You’ll want to find a strong opener to help give context to where we are and what’s happening in the show, an “I Want” song that gives us our characters motivations and sets them on their journey (think “Waving Through a Window”, and “Corner of the Sky”), an “11 O’Clock Number”, in which the character makes a change or realization (“No Good Deed”, “Rose’s Turn”), and so on! There are plenty of categories of songs to cover in writing music for your show, so make sure to do research on that to see what models and music styles you want to pull from to create the sound of your show.

When it comes down to it, the biggest piece of advice I can give to working on any type of written piece, is make sure it’s something you love. While you don’t have to be having the time of your life every second you’re working on something, as it’s core, you should be creating because you love it and you yourself care about the piece you’re creating– the rest can be filled in later. There is absolutely no time limit on writing something, and you should never rush yourself to get things done. Practice makes improvement, not perfect, which means it takes time– so enjoy it! Enjoy the process of falling in love with your characters, the success of finishing your first song after months of work, the joy of watching your work come to life, even if you never thought it would breathe. I know I’ve dumped lots of information in this entry, but playwriting is something I’m truly passionate about, and could talk about forever– so if you ever have any more questions or want to run an idea by me, feel free to reach out on Instagram or through my website, and I’d be happy to give my two, three, four, and five cents. Happy writing, and have fun with it! If you love your work, it’ll show.


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