Whenever you get lost or stuck writing a play, there are three fundamental rules that will most always get you back on track. I like to call them the Three Golden Rules of Playwriting. Let’s go over them, shall we?
1 – Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler.
The first rule reminds us to keep things clear and efficient without sacrificing any storytelling needs. Strive to get things as basic as possible in your story without leaving the audience in the dark. Audiences are smart; they need only the whiff or indication of something happening to pick up on it, so no need to over-explain anything. Always be thinking of ways you can reduce, streamline, and economize your storytelling. Favor potency over volume.
2 – The play is about one thing.
In the same vein, keep your story centered around one thing, one main action, theme, or idea. Some call this the “super objective”, or the one thing the entire play tends toward. The main action of your plot should be easy to communicate in a short, succinct sentence or two, and it should be basic enough that anyone can understand its dynamics right away (e.g. Hamlet is the story of a Danish prince who attempts to avenge his father’s murder).
3 – Rewriting is the real work.
When Muhammad Ali was training, he wouldn’t even start counting sit-ups until they began to hurt, since that was the real work. No pain, no gain. The same holds true for playwriting. First drafts are relatively painless, since they are composed safely away from the scrutiny of peers. The real work (and pain) begins in the rewriting, when you expose it to the world, get feedback, and fine-tune the piece to be more focused, lean, and mean.
So there are my Three Golden Rules for Playwriting. Maybe they will help and maybe you already knew them, but they are always good to keep in your back pocket, especially when you are trying to get unstuck. Until next time, happy writing!