These playwriting tips focus on the opening, middle, and closing of your story. They will help you pace your story to keep your audience interested. The key is to show the audience how the characters and the world they are in are transformed beyond the ordinary. Here is what you need to know to hook your audience and create deep emotion.

playwriting tips hand on paper

Playwriting Tips: Openings

Before any transformation takes place, the audience needs a sense of how the world currently is in the story’s setting. The first few minutes of dialogue should be devoted to introducing the characters and the world of the story. “World” can mean anything from the physical setting of the story to the time period to the characters’ positions in society as a whole.

You don’t need to dump information into dialogue that can be expressed later in the story in a more subtle manner. However, the audience needs a clear idea of the world so they can understand the significance of an inciting event that disturbs the story world’s balance.

An inciting event is any occurrence that leads to the main problem of the story, which the characters work to solve. Although this inciting event is best introduced early in the play, it doesn’t necessarily have to be overly dramatic on its own. Something as simple as the introduction of a new character or an unusual weather event can throw off the regular balance of the story world.

Above all else, you want to create questions in the audience’s mind about how–or if–the world will come back into its natural order. Tension like this keeps the audience focused and intrigued.

Playwriting Tips: The Middle

This idea of transformation carries through into the middle of the story and influences the audience’s expectations. At this point in the story, the conflict is in full swing and the characters are affecting it with every choice that they make.

playwriting tipsThe key to the most effective endings is surprise, but the audience can’t feel surprise unless they first have expectations about how the story will end. Or how the characters will be transformed by the conflict.

On Helping Your Audience with Your Writing

Expectations are related to genre. For example, in a tragedy, characters usually die. Genre conventions are part of every single story that we tell. The audience forms beliefs about how the story will end and what will happen to the characters based on the genre.

One strategy for creating transformation in the middle section is to make the problem so drastic and dire that it forces the characters into an extremely low place. The key is let your characters take risks that force them out of their comfort zone. The audience will either be cheering the characters on or hoping they don’t succeed in what they are doing.

When characters become desperate, risky and unexpected actions that they take tend to make sense to the audience. However, all actions that a character takes must fundamentally make sense according to their personality.

That is, characters’ values usually remain stable. For example, if a character is set up to value honesty above all else, having them turn into a conniving liar at the end of the story makes no sense unless the circumstances are so extreme that the character is forced to change on a fundamental level. Audiences feel emotions such as sympathy for characters that change in interesting ways.

Playwriting Tips: The End

Endings should leave the audience feeling as though the conflict is resolved, for better or for worse. Some playwrights create tidy endings with lots of closure for the audience. While other playwrights prefer to leave the outcome open to interpretation. No matter which method you choose, transformation should still be the focus.

Over the course of a story, characters watch their world shift around them, then respond to that shift by taking unexpected actions and emerging from the conflict transformed. Characters both affect the world and are affected by the world.


These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself, and answer, as you write the ending of your play:

  • Did the characters achieve their goals and bring the world back into its natural order?
  • Has the story world been changed so fundamentally that there is no going back?
  • Did the characters change for the better or for worse?

Answering these questions will give you a sense of the tone of your finale, which influences the emotions the audience will feel. Thinking about shifts in the characters and the world leads you to create a story flow that has tension, intrigue, and above all else, emotional resonance. 

Dylan Malloy is a playwright and director who currently attends Emory University as a playwriting major, with a double major in business on the arts administration track. You can find her on Instagram @dylan_writes.

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