Learning how to write a script is a simple process, and yet it takes time to hone your craft. Be patient and try these steps that work for me.

Whether you’re an actor who wants to create characters from scratch or a director ready to create a whole new world, this process works. Writing your first play is always exhilarating and it’s easy to get distracted. Here’s how I sharpen my focus; see for yourself that adding some structure to the creative process helps to find success.

How to Write a Script: Step One

Find your inspiration. Every writer gathers ideas from different places, so resources that work for me might not work for you. It helps me to make lists of things that inspire me before I sit down to write. 

Here are questions to think about as you write down your list of inspirations: 

  • What visuals inspire me? (photographs of  places, people or animals, painted artworks, statues, etc.)
  • Which songs make me feel the feelings that help me create new characters and worlds?
  • Which stories stay in my mind after I finish reading or watching them?

Woman writing laptopWhen you answer these questions, you can narrow down which genres and moods interest you. For example, if you’re always first in line to see the next Star Wars movie, there’s a chance you might want to try writing science fiction. If you love going to art museums to look at Renaissance paintings, maybe you’d like to try writing a period piece.

The stories we create are made up of a mix of the things that inspire us–all different genres and types of media. Paying attention to things that excite you is the first step toward creating your original stories.

Once you understand your story’s genre, physical location, and time period, you’re ready to begin drafting.

Script Writing: Step Two

Next, set a timer for five minutes and try to describe, in writing, the physical world of the play. Is it set in a living room, a boat, in the woods, or on another planet? Pretend you are watching the setting from above, then “zoom in” as much as possible and write down what you see.

Distance Learning Photo by Andrew Neel from PexelsTry to find unexpected details. Audience members want to feel immersed in the worlds of the stories that they watch, and the more you know about your story world, the more it will come through in your dialogue. Of course, it’s impossible to create a perfect representation onstage of the world you see in your head, but if you have a clear mental picture, you will have a stronger understanding of how characters can navigate this world.

Once the five minutes is up, set a timer for ten minutes and begin to describe the different types of characters who inhabit in your world.

  • Where do they live?
  • What jobs do they perform?
  • What are their relationships with each other?

You don’t have to overthink this, and you also don’t have to stick with your first ideas. This is a simple way to identify people who might live inside your story.

Script Writing: Step Three

The next step is to construct your first scene. This might feel nerve-wracking at first. It helps me to think of writing each individual scene as if I’m driving down the road. Let me explain.

When driving, we sometimes take unexpected turns, or speed up, or slow down. And yet while we’re driving we’re moving, and ultimately moving forward.

That’s what a scene is: forward motion. Each scene moves the story forward because characters are always trying to get what they want. They might change strategies along the way and try different tactics, but no matter what, they are always moving down that “road” by trying to reach their desires.

Characters’ desires need to always come into conflict. Without conflict it’s hard to keep the viewer’s attention. And, well, even characters in a script can’t get what they want all the time! A character’s desire doesn’t necessarily have to be something life-changing. It can be as large-scale as world peace or as small-scale as getting an ‘A’ on a test. But no matter what, there must be consequences if the character doesn’t get what they want. (These consequences are called stakes.) This kind of necessary tension drives a story forward.

At the planning stage, you don’t have to have an outline of every scene in your play. Making new discoveries about details along the way is the most exciting part of the playwriting journey! Some writers prefer to outline everything before they start drafting, but you don’t have to do so if this feels overwhelming. So long as you’re thinking about how to keep the story moving forward, the
script will eventually fall together.

Script Writing: Step Four

Ask any playwright and they will tell you: Writing is mostly a process of rewriting. You can discover more about the characters and the world of your story as you continue to rewrite and create. It’s important to give yourself time and space to write pages that might not make it into the final play. Work that you do is never wasted; everything you write, in some way or another, contributes to the final script. Take the pressure off yourself to create something excellent at the very start! A lot of the best story discoveries come from unexpected detours.

Above all, be sure to give yourself grace as you learn how to write plays. There’s no singular way to get it “right.” Every time you sit down to work, you’re learning–not just about your story, but about your own creative vision.  ♦

Dylan Malloy is a regular contributor to Dramatics.org. Connect with her @dylan_writes

  • Like What You Just Read? Share It!

  • Other Related Articles You May Enjoy

    Discovering Your Voice

    Discovering Your Voice

    DemocracyWorks 2023 Second Runner-Up Essay

    Mar 17, 2023

    Vocal Warm-Ups

    Vocal Warm-Ups

    Tongue twisters for actors

    Mar 24, 2023

    Do This Musical, Not That One

    Do This Musical, Not That One

    6 alternatives to popular musicals

    May 17, 2023