How to write a ten minute play
1. Create Compelling Characters in Conflict:
You will never find a story, plot, theatrical device, notion, idea or means of expression more
interesting than the people or characters you create for your play...A character created for the
• reflect at least some small portion of our complexity as human beings:
• strongly desire something either from the situation they are in or from one another. It's
even stronger if they need it and must have it for their happiness or well-being.
• act. When we truly want something, it implies an action will follow, and plays, no matter
what their length, are all about dramatic action.
Conflict is born just by giving characters very simple things that they want in relation to the
Within the construction of a ten-minute play, a good deal of this character development has to
happen within the first two pages or sooner. We have to know exactly what's at stake for the
central character, that is, what she wants/needs/desires and how she behaves, not only in life,
but in this particular situation, and we have to establish it quickly, because we want to initiate
the obstacles that are going to get in her way and produce an emotional struggle for her as she
tries to get what she wants. We do this much sooner than later in our ten-minute play because
we want to engage our audience fast, unfold the story to keep their attention, and come to
some earned resolution that seems plausible and satisfying.
2. Use A Structure
There has to be some form of structure that serves the storytelling of the play in an intelligent,
thought-provoking way and compels the audience to continue watching your story.
One of your challenges as a playwright is to figure out how to best tell your story, either
through the traditional structure of a clearly defined beginning, middle and end, or a variation
on that-end, beginning, middle, and then back to end, or just middle and end, or even a more
film-like approach of snippets of conversation that jump time, place, worlds, whatever....Let me
warn you, an audience needs to have an emotional attachment to something--person, place or
thing--and it's hard to get emotionally engaged in an intellectual, emotional, or philosophical
idea when the stimulus that's presented is too random or obtuse.
If you're someone who's most comfortable with the traditional three-part structure that has a
clear beginning, middle, and end, I suggest that you start the play closer to its middle and imply
the beginning of the story throughout the scenes that follow. In other words, let's get right to
To wrap it all up for you:
• Pages 1-2: Set up the world we're in, introduce your central character(s), and make sure
we understand what they need/want/desire in the journey of the story.
• Pages 2-3: Illuminate the central conflict--a dramatic question that will be answered by
the play's end.
• Pages 3-8: Complicate the story two or three times.
• Pages 9-10: Resolve the conflict, even if that creates an unhappy ending.
Like any other form of drama, your 10-minute play must have some sort of structure.
Traditional structure for a ten-minute play would look something like this:
Pages 1 to 2: Set up the world of your main character.
Pages 2 to 3: Something happens to throw your character’s world out of balance.
Pages 4 to 7: Your character struggles to restore order to his world.
Page 8: Just when your character is about to restore order, something
happens to complicate matters.
Pages 9 to 10: Your character either succeeds or fails in his attempt to restore order.
3. Create Interesting Dialogue
In a ten-minute play, every theatrical element counts for something more than in a longer play
because we don't have the luxury of time to engage an audience. Every utterance has to count
for something, and what better way to define character quickly than through sharp, revealing
dialogue? One thing that makes dialogue for the stage interesting and less ordinary: No one
speaks the same.
4. Use Your Sense of the Theatrical
That, of course, assumes that you have a sense of the theatrical.... What can you do in theatre
that you can't do on television or film?....Open your imagination to what the theatre can
5. Be Specific
There is nothing more glorious to an audience than to be seduced by specific, imagistic
writing... The more specific you are in your writing, the larger the world you create for me.
Without knowing it, I'm in your world, fully participating in my imagination, and all you did was
draw me in with the help of a few specific words. And if I'm going to be in your world for such a
short time, let me see it from every angle you can think of.
6. Worry About What's Too Much
The scope of what you write has to fit inside that very small ten-minute container. Granted,
there has to be conflict that is resolved to some sort of audience satisfaction. But if you top-
load the play with too many characters issues-her brother hates her; her sister steals from her;
the landlord's threatening to sue her for her back rent, and she didn't get accepted to the
college of her choice-either you're writing a farce, where compound issues are essential, or
you're teetering on melodrama. If you're writing about a relationship that's ending between
two people, let it be ending because of one or two painful, irreconcilable differences between
them, not twenty... An audience that has too much to care about or invest in often ends up
caring about nothing because it's simply too overwhelming in such a short amount of time.
7. Play the Format Game
Absolutely, undeniably, without a shadow of a doubt, make a cover page for your play with the
title, your name, and contact information. A second page should follow that is devoted to a
character breakdown, listing each character's name, sex, age, and any physical, emotional or
relationship information we need to know prior to seeing the play. "Naomi, F., 25: tall, brittle,
angry; mother of twins." Also on this page, you can provide for us a time and location of the
story: “New York City, Upper West Side tenement building, 1972." These two pages do not
count in the overall page numbers of your play, so don't sweat it and do do it. Number the first
page of dialogue as page 1.
Tips for Writing Scripts
If you’ve never written a play, you’re like most teenagers. Keep in mind that:
Plays are about desire. We witness a journey in which characters discover what they desire, try
to get it, and succeed or fail. A play works when the desire is universal health, love, comfort,
independence – and the obstacles are difficult to overcome.
Effective plays show us a story (prose tells us) through dialogue and dramatic action. If you let
us watch your characters interact at key moments, you won’t need a narrator.
Plays are about people in relationships. We stay glued to our seats because events in the play
cause the people, and their relationships, to change. Skip the car chases, physical violence and
special effects; film does these better.
Create characters you can understand and care about. Find something to love or respect in
every character, and we’ll care about your characters too. Since each should be well developed,
use as few characters as possible.
Plays come from experience, imagination and knowledge. You’ve got all three. Mix them
together and write about what you know, deep inside. Plays that work, regardless of their
genre, style or structure, give us a sense of truth.
To start planning, ask yourself:
• Who is the main character?
• What does the character desire (or want or need)?
• What gets in the way of achieving this?
• What tactics might the character use?
• Does the character succeed or fail?
• How is the character’s world changed as a result of the struggle?
• How might our world be changed?
As you discuss, improvise, write and revise each scene, decide:
• Which characters will be in the scene;
• What each character wants to have happen in the scene;
• How the scene will move the story forward through a discovery, decision or
declaration (the 3 Ds); and
• Where and when does the scene take place.
Choose settings that can be reflected in the dialogue and will help to reveal the
characters and their relationships; one time and place per scene.