What writing makes a play immediate, powerful, and exciting?What writing makes a play immediate, powerful, and exciting?

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jonroller9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What writing makes a play immediate, powerful, and exciting?

This is a tough question, and open to some subjective interpretations. However, there exists over 2000 years of writing about drama and the best way to tell a good story on stage. In his essay Poetics the ancient Greek thinker, Aristotle, laid down some important guidelines for writing drama that are still used by playwrights today. These days there are hundreds of books written by professional playwrights and drama instructors for people who want to try their hand at writing a play, so if you've got the writing bug, you've got plenty of guides at the library and bookstore. Personally, I loved William Packard's The Art of the Playwright as it helped me finish writing my own plays. 

There is no way to quickly summarize or pin-down exactly what writing makes a good play. But, briefly we can say that the key to all plays is dialogue and action. With a novel, the reader can skip back a few pages (or even skip ahead!), but with a play the events take place in real time in front of the audience. There's no pause button at a theater! So, to make a play vibrant and exciting you have to keep the audience engaged by keeping the characters moving and talking. There isn't much in the way of internal dialogue (as in a novel) or voiceovers (as in film)--you have to show the audience the story. And you do that by making the characters act: they may argue, or kiss, or see a ghost and start muttering to themselves. Whatever it is, it must be visual and/or relayed through the characters' speech (which, if you think about it, is also and action).

Hundreds of great plays have been written, both in recent times and the distant past. Examples of immediate, powerful, and exciting plays are out there: from ancient Greece, to Elizabethan England, to 21st century America. You should read these plays carefully to get a feel for what works. If you Your best bet is to visit the closest library and check out some collections of plays. I'm a big fan of Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet, so I'd recommend reading any plays by them to get you started, but actually read any plays that you can find (out loud even!) and pay close attention to the action and dialogue. Once again, these are the keys to the kingdom of good plays. 

I've included some links to online texts of Aristotle's Poetics as well as a site that has some great advice and analysis of writing and producing plays in general. Good luck!

--Jon Roller

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When asked in the late 1990s why there are few great books written, Saul Bellows, Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Prize for Literature, replied, "...because there are few great readers."

So, to answer the question on what makes a play "immediate, powerful, and exciting," one may paraphrase Bellows by responding, "an immediate, engaged, and excited" audience.  For, when readers/viewers connect to a play, they become this type of audience.  Since tastes vary, so will the judgment of the audience of a play.  Thus, when the dialogue, acting, theme, setting, and emotional or intellectual appeal of a play connects to an audience, it will, then, be viewed by that audience as worthy.

For instance, the play "No Exit" by the Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, connects to audiences who find validity to Existentialism.  They comprehend what the character Garcin means when he declares, "Hell is--other people" while other audiences may not.  Shakespeare's plays connected in his time to the groundlings in their bawdy dialogues and bellicose scenes, the beautiful poetry of dialogues thrilled the educated, and the plots intrigued all the audiences with such motifs as the supernatural world, the drive for power or riches, etc.

kimfuji eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A play is immediate, powerful and exciting when the dialog moves the action forward. In other words, the dialog must move a character toward what they want.

Each character in a play wants something. Of course there are obstacles that exist to getting what they want. And there are other characters who want the same thing.

Each scene must build the action closer and closer to a climax.

The characters must be sort of exaggerated so their strengths and weaknesses can be clearly seen by the audience.

The audience should almost be able to predict a character's weakness will cause their downfall but not be able to predict what circumstances will occur.


Then when the perfect situation occurs where a character's flaws lead to their downfall, the audience knows why. Then they, the audience, feels satisfied.

Then the audience experiences the feelings with the characters on stage. That is the immediacy of the theatre experience.

I am thinking of David Mamet, one of my favorites.

sherrisuzanne | Student

A play is immediate, powerful and exciting when it is based on real life experience.  A good way to approach this style of playwriting is to write about something you have experienced or know about and to write dialogue based on people that you know.  For instance, write in the language of your actual grandmother, when speaking for an older character, or write as your 6 year old neice when writing the dialogue of a child.  "General" dialogue does not have the same impact.  Plays are much more powerful when written by someone who truly understand the motivations, feelings and experiences of the characters.