Ways & How

How to Write a One-Act Play

How to Write a One-Act Play

A one-act play is to the full-length play what a short story is to the novel, at least in terms of length and complexity. A one-act play, like the short story, is not necessarily easier to write simply because it is brief. But it does provide less of a challenge than a traditional three-act play and has a beauty all its own. Understanding how to write a one act play can help you better enjoy this particular form. When writing a one-act play, it is imperative that you know and appreciate its limitations so that you can maximize its impact. A one-act play, being short, is constrained to a simpler plot, fewer speaking characters, and limited in setting, including time and space. On the other hand, it will hone your focus on your characters and the statement that you wish to express. Here is how to get started in writing a one-act play.

  1. Read up. Find some one-act plays from the library, the Internet, etc., and see what they have in common. Learn what you can from the examples, especially about plot, character development, goal resolution, construction, and so on.

    Figure out the point you want your play to make. Is it a statement for or against something? Do you want to arouse some particular emotion or reaction? Are people supposed to be entertained, educated, or both? The answers to these questions will generally determine your plot and the characters, and the conflict of the play.

  2. Who. Identify the characters and their part in the story; how they will contribute to making your statement? The main character is the focus of the story, and since the one-act play is short, the main character should be introduced quickly and clearly. The supporting characters should contribute to building up the story; if they don’t, then they have no place in it.

  3. What for? The main character should have an objective to pursue during the course of the play. This will give your story that much-needed direction and unity of purpose. By writing a one-act play instead of, say, a propaganda article, you want to get your point across in a way that makes people think and figure things out for themselves. Don’t feed them bare facts or shove your opinions down their throats. So give your main character a goal to introduce your point without being blatant.

  4. And then… Suspense should build up with the conflict that the main character faces. Conflict does not always have to be fights or violence, but simply an obstacle that the character faces. It could be a struggle within the person, a situational hindrance, anything that keeps him or her from realizing the goal or objective. The conflict will give the story tension and keep it interesting. How your main character resolves the conflict (or not) will bring your story to the climax: the high point of the play.

  5. Write it! Let the writing flow, just write it all down as it comes to you, based on what your ideas for the characters, the objective, the conflict, etc. Don’t limit yourself, but allow your imagination and creativity free rein. After you have it all down, then edit and re-write. Tighten the story so that the play is brief but complete and concise but sufficient.

  6. The End. But not quite. Polish your play. After you’re done writing your play, you need to assess it. See how dialogue can be sharpened, how the pace can be quickened, how the action can be improved. Did you get your point across effectively? Can any scene be cut out without detracting from the story? Does a scene need to be played out more? Are the characters well fleshed out? Are the stage directions and setting descriptions clear and complete? Is the conclusion believable and realistic? Does the ending satisfactorily wrap up the story? Critique your work, and have it critiqued by others. All good writing needs re-witing to make it better.

Writing a one-act play may not be quick and painless, but it is a good exercise to develop your writing skills. It is entirely up to you what you do with these tips on how to write a one act play, but actually writing one would be a remarkable accomplishment, one that is certainly worth pursuing.


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