Page name: Scripts-Getting Started [Logged in view] [RSS]
2007-06-22 18:58:51
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Scripts-Getting Started

Here you will find tips and guides on how to set up your script, what to include, what to leave out and a guide to writing things such as descriptions, summaries and dialogue. How to get your vision across without going overboard, how to set up your prologue/epilogue and how to determine length.


Outline, Summary & Character List
Before actually jumping to it, you want to gather all your information and thoughts into as much organization as possible, this means a good summary, and a solid and complete outline and character list. These will not only make your writing go smoother, but it will help in pitching your play and aid in production later on.

The Summary usually includes a Character list, but only of the main or key characters (no extras, cameos or one-liners), includes a brief description of setting, timeline and inspiration, and includes a one to two paragraph summary of the whole story. Keep in mind this is a key point in pitching your play/story so you want a captivating summary that plays up your story and really sells it. Think of the narrator voice-overs in movie trailors, or the leafnotes or summaries on the back of novels. You want something that accurately explains and represents the story, while playing up key events and climaxes of the plot to gain interest, but is generally lacking of any details. You do not want to clutter up, or ramble in your summary, nor do you want to give anything away, so leaving out details is better.

Your outline should consist of Your Acts, giving a to-the-point one or two sentence summary of the Act. Beneath that, list the scenes, only noting the key events each scene. IE - If your introducing a character, or if a character Dies, these would be things to note on the Outline. Otherwise, leave it out. The outline is nothing but a drafted blue-print of your play, so keeping it plain and simple and only major events to get the general idea of the point across.

These two factors will help you sell your script and pitch it to theatre companies or producers/directors, and if you ever have writer's block, get stuck or forget a major point, referencing back to your summary/outline to help move things along and keep things going smoothly.

Character lists are exactly that. A list of characters, usually starting with the protagonist, or main character, and going down from there from most to least importance. A character list also include a brief description of who they are -- this by no means give a bio on each one. This is usally only a few words, not even a full sentence. You do not want to go into detail about who they are, what they look like or their life history. This is not an RP, this is not a trading card game. This is what your play is for, the audience will find out who they are in the story. No need to describe what they look like, because their appearance will change depending on whatever actors play the various roles. No need to describe there clothing or antyhing, that is what the brief description in the summary is for. If you say the setting is the 1700s, needless to say they will be in 1700 costume. You can go over the fine details of costume and what suits each character best in production time, but the script is not the place for it. In the character list, you only want to make important notes of who they are, and nothing more. IE -- Going back to Sally & Stew, in a character list it may look something like this:

Sally - main character
Stew - sally's brother
Dog - sally's dog

Scene descriptions, Set up & Writing
Scene description as sets ups are important to your script, though not in too much detail. Your scene description sets the entire vision of what the scene should look like, the Set-up describes lighting ques and stage directions for both actors and props. You have to keep in mind that not only are the actors using your script, but the director, producer, stage management, stage hands and theatre tech department are also using your script as a guide and as their ques, so you want to be sure to include everything from lighting effects, sound effects and prop directions in your scene set up.

Scene descriptions on the other hand can be a bit more tricky. You want to be able to describe your scene, without going into too much detail. If you are keen on details and descriptions and major imagery, then playwrite may not be your calling. Too much detail clutters up your script, and in the end, become irrelevant. Your audience will not be seeing your script, so it's not for their benefit, and your cast and crew will already have the scene set up for them on stage, so they will no longer need the script during production, and should only need minimal guidance in rehersal. So if your writing has long, indepth descriptions of beuatiful lush gardens, or notes and gestures and the actions of the characters rather than dialogue based, then a novel is probably a better setting for you. Scripts, although action is important, it's the dialogue that makes the play. If you don't have good, solid dialogue, then all you get is a bunch of pretty people standing around on a pretty stage, and that gets boring. You do not have the luxury of fancy camera moves, and craft editing to get your point across without words, so if it needs to be known, it needs to be stated, otherwise, the audience will miss it.

Since plays are dialogue fueled, descriptions need to be kept to a minimal, plain and simple, making only the strong points known. Is it inside, or outside? If inside, what room? If outside, what setting? Is it light, or dark? Is it beautiful, or ugly? Fanatastic, or dull? Simple questions, that can be answered with minimal words, and still get the point across. Here's an example of a good, and bad description for a script:


Scene 3
It is a hot, dry day in Atlanta, there hasn't been a good rain in weeks, so the air is dry and dusty. Sally and Stew are walking from the Train Station, which is all concrete and metal, so it only radiates and amplifies the heat tens times as more. They walk down the street, huffing and panting, fanninf themselves with whatever they van find to try to cool off. (enter Sally and Stew from the right, walking down the street fanning selves, walking to the bus stop at the other side of stage.)


Scene 3
Hot, Dry day outside at Train Station. (Hi Key. bench set SR. enter Sally and Stew SL, fanning & panting. cross to SR.)

Details are kept to a minimal. There no need to tell the city , the actors who already know the play will automatically know the city, and the audience who are watching it should already no aswell. This is just repetative information that should be left out, plus, if it is relevant, it can be included in the summary or prologue, not the scene set up. Other descriptions of the heat, weather and train station have all been removed. If you get too detailed, you leave nothing for dialogue. In the second example, by excluding the details, you leave it open for Sally and Stew to talk about the heat, describing in dialogue all of the details listed in the first example. This not only reduces the clutter and repetition in the script, but boosts the dialogue and action in the play.

Prologues and Epilogues
Although Prologues and Epilogues are not required in plays, or even in novels, it is still a great idea to include them. These can be included in the Playbill, or read as a narration before the play itself opens. Using prologues and epilogues allows you to add in all the lil extra details and history, chracter bios and explanations of things that may not be properly included in the script itself. This is the right place to talk about Sally and Stew, give a greater insight into who they are, how they know each other, where they live and their general lives. It is also a nice option to have to give further, more in depth descriptions and foreshadowing into the play, specific acts, great descriptions of the scenes, the landscaping, the cities, etc. without junking up your script or leaving out room for dilogue in the play. Epilogues are also a good way to cleanly and clearly rap up a story and close the play --- usually, these are read as monologues by a character in third person, for Example : Puck's closing monologue in Shakespear's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. It gives a good clear, and slightly commical conclusion to the play, and gives closure to the audience, but doesn't distract or deduct anything form the play itself. Much like a closing statement in an essay, thesis or even in Court Cases. These are also the perfect place to introduce your main characters, and give the character bios you couldn't elsewhere.

Dialogue and Length
Again, if you are not good with dialogue, or are very into imagery and descriptions, plays are probably not the path for you. Although, these things can easily be accomplished through your dialogue, if your up for a challenge. It's not easy switching over from novels to scripts, it takes a good bit of adjustment, but it is still perfectly capable of achieving the same results, or same vision - just in a different manner.
Not only is dialogue converstation between characters/actors, but it also is a good way to describe their surrondings, their stories or other characters. Also, many playwrites use monologues when characters are thinking outloud to themselves, having a flashback, telling a story or having a revelation. Monologues are also another great way to sneak in descriptions and extra details, if it comes across as awkward to bring up in dialogue between characters.

Another thing to remember is that is takes a lot less time to speek something, then it does most people to read the same thing. So if you do not have a realy long or in depth story, you need to be sure you have an ample amount of dialogue. Most plays are between 2-3 hours, and the general rule is it's one minute per page of dialogue. So to accomplish a 2 hour play, you need to have at least 120 pages of spoken word, wether it be dialogue, monologue or narration.

The overall length of your play really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Full length plays are a minimum of 2 acts, and can ranger anywhere from 2 hours to a week long event, like many of Shakespear's epics and comedies. One act plays are generally a minimum of 30 minutes up to 1 and 1/2 hours. Though, one act plays aren't too often booked and produced unless in a compilation - just as short stories or poetry in publishing, or short films grouped together and shown at film festivals. So, if you are looking to produce a one act -- it is best to have several short stories together in a group of one act plays that a producer or theatre company can produce in a sort of festival or collaboration. So, if you are looking to go professional, it is best to have full length plays, or a grouping of one acts.

return to How to write a Script main page
back to The Need to Knows
jump to Preparing for Production

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