Playwrights write scripts to be performed in a theatrical setting. They are the theatre counterpart to screenwriters who work for films. While William Shakespeare is perhaps the most famous playwright of all time, this form of theater originated long before him and continues today.
In addition to a compelling storyline, the best plays also feature a strong rhythm. This is a combination of the pace of plot, character development, and dialogue that creates an impelling force that leads to a final climax.
Another important factor in playwriting is the use of spectacle. Whether it is the action of the characters or the elaborate set designs, spectacle provides an added dimension to the experience that cannot be matched on the page.
When writing a play, it is helpful to understand that it should be more character-focused than world or plot focused. This is largely due to the fact that plays are performed live and that most of the story is conveyed through dialogue, which requires character-driven action. This can make it challenging to build an entire world for your characters when you can’t see them, but it forces the playwright to rely heavily on the character’s actions and reactions.
Plot wise, intelligent planning is essential. Almost all plays are constructed around the idea that someone wants something, and they must face obstacles (external or internal) until they achieve their goal. Examples include Hamlet’s quest to avenge his father’s death (Hamlet) and Blanche DuBois’ desire for traditional domesticity in New Orleans (A Streetcar Named Desire).
Finally, good playwriting should always be centered on human relationships. While this might seem obvious, it is often overlooked. The characters in a play must be fully developed, and they should drive the story forward. They should have personal transformations, powerful obstacles to overcome, or a compelling reason to act. Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a classic example of this, with the characters Estragon and Vladimir representing a pair of Everymen whose lives seem to be going nowhere.
The best playwrights can create compelling stories that capture the audience’s imagination and take them on a thrilling ride. They can evoke feelings of awe, anger, sadness, or even fear. They can challenge the audience’s beliefs or expectations of what is right and wrong, or even their sense of reality itself. This is what makes the theater an extraordinary place to be, and it is why people come to watch plays. Unlike film and television, most plays are watched in groups, fostering community and a shared experience. And as a bonus, they don’t require special equipment to be enjoyed. This makes the theater an ideal space to explore complex issues that might be difficult or impossible to depict on screen.