You've Finished Writing the Play: Now What?

by Troy Hughes

So, you've gone ahead and you've written a play. Against your better judgment and the wishes of your family and friends, you did it anyway. And you're wondering, "Just what do I do now?".

And you thought writing the thing was difficult.

There are many things one needs to do with a finished script to prepare it for perusal by producers, directors and actors. You will need to proofread, polish, proofread, format, proofread, and generally make your work ready to go out in public. Just like with reluctant spouses, you have to coax them along just to get them out the damned door.

The first thing you will need to do is print a copy of your play for proofreading. Have a friend read it. It is very important that your finished copy is mistake-free. Errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation will diminish your work in the eyes of a harried and hurried reader. Remember, whether submitting the work for performance, publication, or a contest, there are may others writers' works filling the In-Baskets of those reviewing the submissions. Why risk only a cursory glance because of some silly mistakes? When writing in a dialect to direct an actor to speak a certain way ("I ain't no sonnabitch"), be sure that it is in context with your character. In this case, of course, grammar errors are forgiven. Just make sure you are consistent with the usage.

I find that having friends read the play aloud for you is a very effective way to proof your script. Have the "actors" (it is helpful to use experienced actors whenever possible) mark any errors they find while reading the play. As a bonus, actually hearing the dialogue spoken will help you find and correct awkward or unnecessary passages. Again, experienced actors will be able to tell you what works for them and what does not. If your dialogue seems too literary and does not resemble the way people really talk, you will need to make some adjustments. For example, if your dialogue reads like that in Look Homeward Angel, you may want to consider re-writing to make the lines easier to speak. There are modern plays being written in verse, and some are successful, but if you are writing in today's standard of drama, waxing poetic is probably not the direction you want to go. Read Tennessee Williams. His dialogue, while extremely beautiful and moving, is real. Actors love to say those lines.

Next, you should carefully proofread your play again, making sure that the changes you made from the first proofreading are improvements to the work.

How your play looks on paper is important. In the world of the Theatre, people cling to tradition. They want their playwrights to know about theatre, but not too much. The playwright is just that -- the creator of the work, not the director, the designer, or an actor. So be careful in stage directions not to design your set. Avoid writing, "There is a couch center stage." Just furnish the room; the production team will do the rest.

As far as format is concerned, there are a couple of seemingly more or less accepted ways to put the dialogue to paper. Generally, the character name is centered, in caps. With advent of word processing, many writes choose to use bold caps for names. This is standard for stage directions, as well. However, if a character uses another character's name in the dialogue, it should be printed normally.

The characters dialogue should appear, printed normally, underneath the character name; single space between them. Dialogue should start at the left margin.


Yo! April! I know you killed my dad. You and a lot of other people, including me, will die for it!

Double space between the next character name or stage direction. If you wish to add some actor direction it should appear underneath the character name, indented from the left margin somewhat (accepted standard ranges from 5 spaces to 11, depending on who you talk to or read), and in parentheses.


        (Pointing at APRIL; angry)
Yo! April! I know you killed my dad. You and a lot of other people, including me, will die for it!

When writing lengthy stage directions, such as at the top of an act, they should be centered and single-spaced. Avoid the temptation of using theatrical staging terms such as "JIM goes to the chair down-left." These are staging decisions to be made by the production team.

Also, remember that when writing direction of this kind, you need to use capital letters (with or without bold typeface) when referring to any aspect of the characters or their actions.

KENNY wanders silently about the room. HE is pensive and watchful. HIS movements are similar to that of a maniacal madman. HE can not make up HIS mind. HE turns abruptly as HORACE enters.

A brief aside: with today's word processing abilities, the conventions are rapidly changing as to what is and is not acceptable. For instance, I was always taught that character names and stage directions are not centered. Rather, they begin at an imaginary vertical line that exists 26 spaces from the true left margin (thus, a bit to the left of center). But workshops serving writers of the computer age give a nod the use of centering as described previously. Pick a up a good reference book that outlines a format that you are comfortable with and use it. The Elements of Playwriting, by Lois E. Catron (MacMillan, 1994) is an excellent resource on this subject.

A title page is very important. This is the first look at your work, and it should be professional and informative. The title page should feature your title, centered, in caps, and underlined. Below this should appear a description of the play (One-Act, etc.), and below this your name.


A Play in Two Acts


Troy M. Hughes

At the bottom of the page give any copyright information on the left side; your mailing address and telephone number should be on the right.

Also include as a second page a Cast of Characters, and describe Time and Place. The page should be headed with the title (again, all caps, underlined and centered). Each section should be headed in the same manner as the title appears. Under Cast of Characters, briefly describe each character. Age, title (if any), occupation and relation to other characters is sufficient. Next describe the Time, this being the era or exact year, and the season. Under Place, describe the scenes briefly, including time of day and location.

Your description of setting and action at the rise of the play will be on page three. Again, it is helpful to consult a book or two for clear examples of a format. The Elements of Playwriting, mentioned above, is also excellent in this respect. It is concise and very readable.

There you have it. When you are finished, it is sometimes a nice touch to bind the play, but never in a manner that makes it difficult for a person to read the play or to handle it physically. Velo® binding strips are an attractive and inexpensive choice. Now you're ready to submit!

Good luck, and remember; don't forget to proofread!

**In Part II, you'll learn how to actually get someone to read your play and maybe even get it performed.

**Troy M. Hughes is a theatrical director and critic residing in the Detroit metropolitan area. His credits include: A Chorus Line, Broadway Bound, The Fantastiks, Ain't Misbehavin, Lend Me a Tenor, Pump Boys and Dinettes, and Eleemosynary. He can be reached by email at

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