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Playwriting vs. Screenwriting - Is Your Story a Play or a Screenplay?

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The art of dramatic writing requires a decision of which medium is the best choice to tell your story. It’s important to understand how to choose between writing a play script or writing a screenplay before you even start outlining or putting words on the page. Your time is precious.

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Think of writing a play and writing a script as addressing two different senses. Plays primarily focus on what you hear, while films tell a story by what you see. Certainly, character development, compelling story and structure all apply to both, but in general, when you’re writing a play, think of the audience as eavesdropping on the characters. When writing a screenplay, you have a visual medium with no limitations, except budget. You can take the audience out of their seat and into outer space, if you want.

In our free download, Play vs. Screenplay Checklist download, you’ll get great tips on how to make the final decision on which is the best way to execute your ideas. But once you’ve decided, you’ll need to know how to write a play compared to how to write a screenplay. Pay attention to certain aspects that will need to differ in your writing.

If you’ve only written screenplays, learning how to write plays isn’t that difficult, but it is different.

· Regarding structure, you’ll need clear act breaks to leave room for intermissions.

· Limit the number of scenes for ease of set changes.

· Limit number of characters, depending on the size of your stage and budget.

· Dialogue in play writing is much more forgiving in terms of monologues and length. Unlike screenwriting, what the audience can’t see in visual form often needs to be addressed in dialogue.

· In movie scripts, scene descriptors are short, typically three lines. But in playwriting, lengthy descriptions of what the setting is like are found at the beginning of an act. This gives the reader a full understanding of the set and of the theme of the play as well as instructions for the set designers to create the world you intended.

Stretch the possibilities of your story by considering how to serve the heart of your story best. Whether it be playwriting or screenwriting, you’ll deliver a more compelling tale faster if you start off by choosing the right medium! Who knows, maybe your story would work for both!

Get your FREE Play vs. Screenplay Checklist to help you succeed in playwriting.

Side note: The terms “playwright” and “playwriting” are both commonly used, with the word “wright” derived from an old English term for “craftsman.”