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March 21st, 2016 donnahoke


It started with my simple post on the Official Playwrights of Facebook: What is the single best piece of piece of playwriting advice you’ve ever received distilled to one line–talking about craft only? I have two, but the best one is probably: Questions are the weakest form of dialogue.


What followed was an amazing compendium of craft gems; everybody who posted learned something new—and all agreed it was too good not to share. I had to wait for the thread to calm down, but here are the results in a somewhat more coherent, though not original, order:




Find an unusual setting for your play.__Chip Bolcik


Don’t set your play on the wings of a 747.__Angela Osborne


Do not start writing without a plan.__Joe O’Connor


Pinter. A character, a place, a line of dialogue. You’re off.__Don Webb


You need to know three things: what you want, what the characters want, and what the characters actually do about it, before you ever write a line.__Neal Lewis


Have a good story to tell before you create voices to tell it.__R L Pete Housman  


I think it was Dan O’Brien who told me, “Don’t write what you know, write what you want to know.”__Kathy Rucker


Write what you can imagine.__Sheila Rinear


Start in the middle.__Laura Pittenger


Start as close to the end of the story as possible and develop conflict.__David W. Christner


Come into the scene at the last possible moment.__Maureen Bogues


Start as late as you can in the action, so the audience is immediately engaged and trying to get up to speed.__Tim Glinski


Enter late, get out fast.__Rashman N. Kalsie


Full length, by the end of page two we should know what the play is about: ten minute play, by the end of page one.__Ron Pullins


Hook the audience in the first 10 minutes.__Roy O’Neil


Marsha Norman says: you don’t owe the audience the play they want, but you do owe them the play you promise them in the first 10 minutes.__Hal Corley


Every time you write a new play, pretend it’s the first play ever written. What does it want to be? Create the form anew each time. (Albee)__Lauren Feldman




“Content dictates form, less is more and God Is in the details, all in the service of clarity, without which nothing else matters.” – Sondheim__Rex McGregor 


Every play should make history.__Michael Fanelli


Always tell the truth and then lie about it.__Tim J. Brennan


Anger has never made a good play. Anger can instruct love — Athol Fugard, paraphrased__Steven John Bosch 


The only thing worth writing about is sex./Comedy comes from character./Begin with a premise./What does the audience want next? / Find the thing you hate in a story and be motivated by it.__Michael Penny


Tension__Scott Tobin


Where/what is the danger?__Andrew R. Heinze


Why today?__Alyson Mead


Why is this night different than every other night?__Chris White


Consequences, consequences, consequences__Gabrielle Sinclair


You can make a good play out of right vs. wrong. But you make a great play out of right vs. right.__Rand Higbee


Write what you’re afraid to write about.__Glenn Alterman


Write the play you would want to see.__Seth Christenfeld 


“Write your play.”__Robert Emmet Lunney





What does the first line of your play say about your play?__Donna Hoke


Know what you want to say– and then don’t say it.__Paul Surace


If someone asks a question, don’t answer it for a while or ever.__Andrea Lepcio


Questions are fine. Direct answers to questions asked are deadly.__Adam Szymkowicz 


Never give anybody anything the first time they ask. Onstage, that is.__Mary Sue Price


Not yet. (regarding when information should be revealed in the play.)__Tira Palmquist


Make them laugh, make them cry, but most of all make them wait. Charles Dickens__L.A. Giordano 


Exposition is ammunition; only fire it off when you need to do so.__Jeff Stolzer


Let the characters talk; you edit.__Mark Hein


If you’re finding what your characters are saying is boring, keep writing and trust them; eventually, they will say something interesting again, and you can cut out the boring parts later.__David Hilder


Show, don’t tell.__Neil Radtke, Brad Sytsma 


Show, don’t tell and sometimes an argument about ketchup isn’t about the ketchup (Francesca)__Tanise Robnett


Do not have your characters bicker ad nauseum. Every line should move the story along.__Elaine Alexander



Sometimes dialogue is not spoken. -Julie Jensen, Brief and Brilliant__Teri Foltz 


Great dialogue is great action — often even transcending.__Fred Dunham





Writing is easy – you sit at a typewriter and bleed. (Hemingway)__Jack Peterson


Write every day, don’t miss a date because every day you miss, it takes you that long to regain your momentum: Stephen King, On Writing__April Yvette Thompson


If you book the theater, the play will write itself.__Sarah Jarmon


Write. It doesn’t cost anything.__Alexandra Cremer 


Rub the pencil on the paper until the play appears!__Paul Barile


Just write.__Val Valdez


Write backwards.__Audrey Cefaly


Keep writing.__Chuck O’Connor



The play is writing/revealing itself to you, not the other way around.__Jason Chimonides


Keep writing and the story will appear to you. Then you can go back and craft your play.__Marguerite Scott


Taken from Twitter and on a Sticky on my computer for a while: “Two friends burying a body in silence is much more compelling than two friends talking about that time they buried that guy.”__Stephen Spotswood


Make it active.__D Lee Miller


Start where the action starts.__Cathy Muckian Lanski


Put conflict on every page.__Bill McCann


Don’t let a page or two go by without a change in beat and/or a new action.__John Servilio


No matter how small the beat, what just changed?__David Valdes Greenwood 


“Write toward danger,” a playwriting teacher quoting Romulus Linney__Helene Montagna


If there’s a gun on the wall it better go off by the end of act one.__Lila Louise Nawrocki


Keep it in the present tense.__Jeffrey Sweet


Keep it in the present tense or in the future tense!__Tom Cavanaugh


Learn how to hold the situation.__Craig Thornton


Every scene should be a fight, a seduction, or a negotiation: Mike Nichols__ EM Lewis


If you are writing a comedy, keep your funniest scene for the last act.__Bruno Lacroix


If there’s a paper shredder onstage, someone’s necktie has to get caught in it.__Judith Pratt


Write page one, then turn it over and write page two, then page three and so on…. don’t look back to rewrite until you have an entire first draft.__Jason Odell Williams


Stop your writing session just at the point where you know what to say next and you’re eager to tell it. Then you’ll be able to pick it up the next day and roll. That or you won’t be able to sleep.__Steve Patterson


When you get stuck, stop writing because the next thing you write will be a lie and you must write truth. (John Kani told me that)__France-Luce Benson


Similarly, I’ve heard that if you’re stuck, it’s because somewhere along the way you told a lie. You have to find the lie and tell the truth in its place, and then you’ll be able to move forward.__Lauren Feldman


“Begin at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop.” — The Mad Hatter__Bruce Bonafede 


Let a play be as long as it’s meant to be, don’t telescope it into a perceived requirement.__Richard Ballon


Nothing is good or bad until you write it. Never be afraid to write anything.__Ted Gettinger 


“Don’t stop.”  That was Jim Lehrer. Of the PBS News Hour. He said he’d dabbled in playwriting once but didn’t stick with it.__Bridgette Dutta Portman  


Let the first draft suck.__Diane Burbano


 Bill Mastrosimone told me once “Keep digging until you hit the bottom.”__David Lee White


Michael McKeever told me the first draft doesn’t have to be good, just written.__Donna Hoke




Finish it.__Nancy Bell


Get to the end. (Marsha Norman)__Steve Harper


Move on to the next play.__Mark Cornell






First draft is your gut, second draft is your brain, everything after is your heart.__Stuart  Hoffman


The first draft is from your heart; the second draft is from your head.__Martin Casella


Don’t ever invite the “editor” in until the “writer” is finished.__Terri Foltz


Writing is rewriting.__Jenny Lane


Write crap. Then revise the hell out of it.__Patti Cassidy 


Cut the fluff!__Paris Creighton III


Every line in a play needs to add to a character, add to the plot, or be really really funny.__Jeremy Gable


The utmost complexity of thought with the utmost simplicity of language.__Martin Heavisides 


You’re making a blueprint from which a team of creative people will build—never explain—if it reads easily, it’s probably overwritten.__Deborah Magid 



Tighter is better; you must never let your audience get in front of you.__Mark Scharf


Cut extraneous words; be merciless.__Barbara Trainin Blank


Every word costs 5 cents.__Jeffrey Lentz


I never met a script I couldn’t cut 10% out of.__Scott Dixon


If a word or line doesn’t serve to further the action or story, cut it.__Jan Maher


More needs to happen in less time.__Scott Sickles


Less is more__Jeff Curtis, Chima Clarke


Steven Dietz “Be a slave to your story” – you’ll willingly cut all the extraneous, self indulgent stuff that your ego inserts. __Dave Tucker


Joss Whedon says: If your story isn’t working, cut your favorite part. Then your story will work.__Liz Thaler


[Your favorite part] is almost always the thing that got you writing the story in the first place. One writer I know referred to it as the booster rocket: it got the story into orbit, then needed to be jettisoned.__Scott Sickles


Kill your darlings.__Pete Risenberg


Murder your children.__Dolores Sendler


Run toward the questions the audience has. If the audience has a question about a character, an action,  don’t gloss over it; address it so the audience won’t get hung up on the small details.__Darci Caitlin Faye


If you have a scene that isn’t working then you should ask yourself three questions, “Who wants what from whom? What happens if they get it or don’t? And why now?”__Chuck O’Connor


Read one character’s lines all the way through when you’re editing – and end on an action.__Judith Robinson


Don’t listen to anybody.__Gina Dilorio


You don’t have to take, or agree with, every note.__Sean Abley


Take what you like and leave the rest.__Chuck O’Connor


Proofread your work before pressing ‘post’.__Jim Wyatt





Character is story and story is character.__Chuck O’Connor 


Listen to your characters. They will tell you what they believe to be true.__Micah Rose


Your characters are real people, not imagination, and this is their story, not yours.__Max Donohue Barr



Use everything to reveal your characters and their needs– their clothes, their speech patterns, their ways of relating to their space, even if your characters don’t believe it.__Louise Wigglesworth


Audiences care more about why someone does something than the actual behavior itself.__Greg Vovos 


Every character should want something.__Jennifer O’Grady


Everybody in the scene wants something.__Michael Aman


What a character wants and what a character needs are virtually never the same thing.__Devin Gaither


Put your characters in danger.__Kate Danley


“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader* may see what they are made of.”–Kurt Vonnegut__Vishesh Abeyratne


Give your characters secrets.__Staci Swedeen


“You gotta fuck ’em up”__Jason Lasky


Listen to their silence.__Sheila Rinear


Write characters that actors would kill to play.__Rosemary McLaughlin  


Give the actors something fun to do.__Mark Harvey Levine


If a character should cry but doesn’t, sometimes the audience will for them. __Mark Scharf  


Never write a character who is dumber than you.__John Steele Jr.





For scripts aimed at the high school market, always make sure the cast can be 2-1 female.__Dwayne Yancey


What you see as bad you must also see as good.__Larry Raiken


A play should be able to be produced with two chairs and a hanging light bulb, and still make sense. Edward Albee__Leighza Walker


No matter how good the reviews are… If they don’t want to come they won’t come… i.e. It’s the idea of the story that counts most.__ David Elendune


Don’t be sentimental about your work.__Kirk Sheppard


Don’t be precious.__Amanda Zeitler


Love scenes are murders; murders are love scenes.__Aleks Merilo


Love is in the details.__Josh A. Campbell


Learn how to do everything in theater. It will keep you from expecting the director and actors to fix your weak spots.__George Sapio


Learn the rules so you know how to break them.__Michael Tooher


And then from my favorite theatre professor, for every rule in art, there is someone who has successfully broken it.__John Steele, Jr.


Get angry.__Rosa Nagle


Don’t be afraid to make them feel.__Kristen Horner Da Silva 


Finish a play in 1.5-2 years. After that, she says, you’re no longer the same person you were when you started writing it (Marsha Norman).__Lauren Feldman


Don’t talk too much about what you are writing until you’re ready to share it.__Chuck O’Connor


Don’t show your work to anyone until it’s finished. Then only to someone who can progress it in some way.__Don Webb


Follow every piece of advice on this thread … except when you don’t want to.__Frank Tangredi


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  1. 1 Richard Slota said at 7:48 pm on March 21st, 2016:

    I heard this but forgot the source:

    There are 3 rules for writing a play. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are.

  2. 2 Scott said at 3:00 pm on March 29th, 2016:

    Donna:thanks. Lots of useful hints. 🙂

  3. 3 Joe Blake said at 10:32 pm on April 2nd, 2016:

    My thought came to me while dragging my wet T-shirts out of the washing machine. A play is like a spin drier on a washing machine. If you put too much in it will struggle to get anywhere, if you don’t put enough in, it’ll be a waste of energy. If you get just the right amount, you still have to balance it all to make it spin smoothly. Joe

  4. 4 France-Luce Benson said at 2:02 pm on January 7th, 2019:

    Love this! That’s all.

  5. 5 donnahoke said at 4:00 pm on January 7th, 2019:

    haha thank you so much!! And you’re part of it; I can’t believe you never saw it!

  6. 6 Fengar Gael said at 9:38 am on January 8th, 2019:

    “Be a fire that lights itself.” Emily Dickinson

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