Our playwriting competition is now open, but if your student has never written a play, where should they begin? Australian Children’s Laureate Ursula Dubosarsky has put together some tips to help aspiring storytellers get to grips with this unique text type.

Ursula’s tips

  • A play is mainly dialogue – characters talking to each other. That’s how the action happens and it’s also how you learn about the characters. So it’s important that each character has their own “voice”, their own way of thinking and speaking, to show their personality.
  • It’s usually best if each character only says one or two lines at a time, to keep things moving.
  • What they say should be fairly simple, so that people watching can easily understand what is going on. It also makes it easier for the actors to act!
  • It’s usually best to keep the action fairly simple too, for the same reasons.
  • Talking of action, it can help to introduce something early on in the scene that the characters can react to and that makes things happen. It can be anything – a loud noise, a ball bouncing, a chase, an argument, someone crying, someone laughing. The characters react and off you go!

A trick to help

Why not make a puppet for your scene, before you even start writing? I always find if I have a puppet in my hand, its personality comes alive and it starts telling me all sorts of things and doing all sorts of things. That makes the writing so much easier!  If you look here you will find lots of things about puppets, including how to make your own!

How to set it out

If you look at the puppet play sections of Pierre’s Not There you will see how a play is usually set out. You can start with some short lines that describe the scene, in the present tense, with the entrance of one of the characters. Here’s an example:

A playground. Next to the swings is a large box. DOG enters.

If you want to emphasise how a line is to be acted, you can put that in brackets like this:

DOG: (suspiciously) What’s that?

And if you want the characters to do something, again you can use brackets, like this.

(DOG goes slowly over to the box and pulls out a large bone.)

Plays by Ursula