Ross Brown shares solid reasons why 10-minute plays will improve both your writing and career.
Ross Brown is the Program Director for the MFA in Writing & Contemporary Media at Antioch University, Santa Barbara. He began his writing career on NBC’s award-winning comedy The Cosby Show and went on to write, produce and create comedies for ABC, CBS and The WB. He is the author of the book Create Your Own TV Series for the Internet.
I love ten-minute plays. I love them as a writer, and I love them as a teacher. Why do I love them – or more importantly, why should you be writing them? Let me count the ways:
- They’re short, so you can finish them, maybe even several of them in a fairly short period of time. And finishing writing projects boosts your confidence and provides momentum and inspiration for the next project. Need proof? The next time someone asks what you’re working on, which answer will feel better:
Answer #1: I’ve been working on a screenplay, but I’m kind of stuck.
Answer #2: I just finished a ten-minute play that I’m submitting to festivals now.
- Agents, producers and others you want to read your work are far more likely to do so if they only have to invest ten minutes rather than two hours. But they can’t sell ten-minute plays, I hear you cry. No – but if they like your ten-minute play they are far more likely to read your full-length work, and to read it with a positive mindset because they liked your shorter work.
- Marathon runners don’t run marathons every day – they train at shorter distances and work up to them. They build muscles, stamina and technique. Writing ten-minute plays can do the same for you if your ultimate goal is to write full-length screenplays, stage plays or even long-form TV series.
- You can submit them to festivals and have a real shot at seeing your work produced on stage. Seeing your work actually performed will improve your skills as a writer, make you write tighter dialogue, more compelling action, and more vivid characters. And festival recognition is the kind of resume item that moves your longer work closer to the top of the agent/producer reading pile. (see #2)
- Even if you don’t get accepted to a festival, you can find local actors, organize a reading, and get much of the same benefit of hearing your work read aloud or performed. (Note: hearing trained actors read your work is much more useful than just gathering some non-actor friends and listening to them.)
- They force you to be economical with dialogue, action and character creation. The ten-minute limitation doesn’t restrict you as much as it focuses you, forces you to get to the point, to make each and every word count. And as a corollary, production value is usually severely restricted as well, which means you have to make the characters and dialogue and drama or comedy compelling, rather than worrying about the spectacle.
- They help build your skill at creating a beginning-middle-end of a story – something vital for structuring a longer work, and for structuring each individual scene. The longer a piece of writing is, the easier it is to rationalize unnecessary side trips, subplots and other detours that distract or deviate from the central drama rather than augmenting it. As with #6, you learn to focus like a laser on the dramatic purpose of every word you write.
- You can write a bunch of them, put them together (or perhaps team up with other ten-minute play writers) and create a complete evening of theater. Now you get to see your work with an audience – another huge help in the learning curve for writers. And as a bonus you expand your creative community by establishing relationships with actors, directors, producers, and other writers.
- You’ll be amazed at how much you can pack into ten pages. For outstanding examples, buy a book of short plays like 30 Ten-Minute Plays, which features winning submissions to the Actors Theater of Louisville’s annual National Ten-Minute Play Contest.
- They’re fun to write, which kick starts your creativity and motivation, which builds writing discipline - which means you’ll generate more material and reap the benefits of #1-9.