What I would have wanted someone to tell me
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
As I am reinventing my life again (as many writers have to do again and again) to become a play-script consultant, I decided to give some free advice on my website. As I wrote this section, the first question I asked myself is: What advice, as a brand-new playwright, would I have liked to have received. Not about my writing, per se, but about those things that immediately scream AMATEUR to potential producers. You'll see what I mean...
There are several formats for play-scripts. Find one you like and stick with it for your entire script. Nothing looks more bush-league than a submitted script that is a riot of colours, fonts and format changes. This rule also applies to spelling; use "color" or "colour" not both.
BE PRESENT IN YOUR SCRIPT
Your characters and your story and structure can go every which way, but if your stage directions, notes and intro are mis-spelled, grammatically wrong or in any way do not reveal a sharp intellect then you are betraying all your work. No one wants to work with a dunce.
TITLES ARE FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Yes, choose a working title for your play, but look within the finished draft to find the title that makes you hum and will make a possible producer go beyond the title. My own play, Aléola, was originally called Such Was Our Love (yeeeeeej!) and I still regret the title of another play: Returning. Brad Fraser went through several titles and consults with friends, even "friends" on Facebook before titling his play about five women in their fifties 5 @ 50.
Not a couple, not a bunch, but hundreds. If you're serious about writing plays, join a university or theatre school library and never be anywhere without a play on you. When you watch a program or movie you like, pinpoint why. Always be asking yourself questions about what made it work - technical questions, not just emotional ones: how was the structure interesting, a character appealing, a snippet of dialogue intriguing. If you are going to be serious about writing plays, your second job is being a sponge and absorbing everything, your third job is questioning what you are absorbing. You'd be amazed by how many theatre producers will read a submitted work and ask, "Has this 'writer' ever seen a play?"
Always be writing. Notes, poems, songs, snippets of possible dialogue. If you're blocked on a scene, just write - don't think of the scene, characters, dialogue, play - just write anything. You'd be surprised what your subconscious can turn out and what can sometimes be a completely original idea that may advance your present play or feed into a new one. As I was stuttering about for dialogue in a play that involved Scripture I began musing about why Noah built an ark and no one else on earth seemed to own a boat which became a horror story I sold to an American magazine called Ark of Evil.
Stage directions should be included only when absolutely necessary. No director will be delighted when s/he reads: "Mary moves downstage left, changes her mind and moves centre, then upstage right." "Mary paces," pretty much says it all for a director and an actor. So always remember the K.I.S.S. rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It has been kind to me. Also - three pages to describe each character in a play (what they wear, what they eat, their upbringings) mean nothing if this information is 1) not integral to the play's production 2) not contained somewhere in the dialogue. It's very hard for an actor to deliver a subtext that you - in the character's description which no audience will ever read - suggested the character had a fondness for beets.
DON'T BE BUSH...
...as in bush league. If you have read standard Samuel French play-scripts, you will notice they almost never have pictures. Just because you know how to use a good word processing program - a working script you want to sell is not the time to show off how well you can do layouts. The designers will do your sets and costumes, one day, the actors or a makeup artist the faces, don't go beyond your words by insisting on aesthetics. Theatre is collaborative; it is not only about your text. Theatre people honour you by doing your words and bringing them to life with their art, honour them back with trust in their skills.