Playwriting Tips and Handy Hints

* Writing stage directions that can't be staged is sooo five minutes ago.  What are all the cool kids doing now?  Stage directions that can't even be written.  Go!* Parenthetical adverbs attached to your dialogue is a bad idea because it tells actors there's only one acceptable way to say the line.  Leave them out.  There's still only one acceptable way to say the line, of course, but now the actor doesn't know what it is.  Their destabilization shifts the power dynamic in your favor.  Which is to say: now you'll have something to silently resent the actors for when they get it wrong.  And we treasure our silent resentments.* Silences tell you story.  They also make it easier to get to eighty pages, especially if you signify silences with lots of hard returns.* Beckett envied composers because music was never condemned to explicitness.  So slip the bonds of explicitness.  Write without nouns.* Talkback, shmalkback: an audience's reactions during a reading tell you everything you need to know about a play.  Watch for subtle nonverbal cues like: sleeping, eye-rolling, watch-checking, leaving, seizures, projectiles.* You may dread the fate of being developed to death.  But there are worse things.  Like being flayed, for instance.  Or tickled.  Perspective!* Base your work on people you know.  It's soooo much easier than making stuff up.  Plus: the fewer friends you have, the more time you have to write.  Win/win.* Artistic directors and literary managers just don't read new scripts any more.  Save your time and money and just send your plays to the people you know will probably look at them.  You've got your mom's address; use it.* When a theater politely passes on your script, they very much want to hear about your resulting feelings of hostility and despair.  They went into the theater.  They love drama.  Give it to them.  Everybody wins.* Write every day.  No writing time is wasted.  Unless you write something bad.  In which case, yeah, you probably should've done the laundry or spent time with your kids or something. 

Why I'm a Playwright

When ACCIDENTAL RAPTURE was produced by the 16th Street Theater they asked me to write something. I tried to explain to them: I'd already written something! What was I, a machine? But anyway, this is what I wrote:People often ask me why I’m a playwright. That’s not true. People often ask me to move my car. Apparently I’m not supposed to park there. Frankly I’d prefer it if they were asking me why I were a playwright. If they did—if they asked me why I’m a playwright, and honestly I don’t know why more people don’t ask me that, it’s really pretty fascinating stuff—I’d probably say something about the vibrant immediacy and political vitality of live theater, about the collaborative dynamic, about how Tom Stoppard said writing dialogue is a respectable way to argue with oneself in public. Some stuff like that. Only I’d make it sound good; I work with words for my job thing, after all.Really, though, it’s about the white space. I’ve done other kinds of writing, and most of them require so many words. You have to fill almost every inch of your blank page with the things. Like poetry, playwriting can occupy obscenely vast expanses of pages’ real estate with remarkably few words. Playwriting is a wasteful landowner of a genre, looking smugly over its sprawling and underpopulated Beckettian vistas, reveling in the pleasure of having so much more room to stretch out in than over in those Dostoevskian tenements where words huddle crammed together, sometimes as many as fifteen or twenty to a line.Too much? Yeah, I’ll probably fix it when I revise this. I’m a writer, after all, and revision is one of the tools we have for to make the words more better.Point is: what do writers in other outlets use to fill all that white space? Everything: what the characters are wearing, what their surroundings look like, what they’re thinking and feeling, how and when they move, what they ate that morning. Playwrights, unless they’re Eugene O’Neill (and who is, nowadays?), don’t care about that stuff, because playwrights have other people around who care about that stuff for them: designers, directors, actors. It sounds like I’m lazy. And indeed I am. I really don’t want to have to move my car. But also: every time a play is produced, the playwright has the pleasure of seeing how all these other people have helped to fill in that white space, with the result being a play that’s not really at all like any of the plays this script has been before.