How to Format a Play; or: Organizing Your Script for the Stage Is Easier Than You Think

Posted by Prince Gomolvilas
ON Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Even after I've thoroughly explained proper playwriting format in my classes at USC (in the Master of Professional Writing Program) and EWP (in the David Henry Hwang Writers Institute), students still turn in work that simply doesn't look right. The reason for this is because students have a difficult time straying from the format they're used to; i.e., they, like most us, are typically only familiar with play scripts published in book form. So, we've been exposed to the improper formatting in these books over and over again since grade school, and it can be hard to shake. (Well, at least until I bloody your script with scary red "F's"all over the place. )

Why do published plays get it "wrong?" In order to keep business costs down, publishers aim to use as little paper as possible. To help facilitate this, they eschew standard playwriting format in order to cram as much onto a page as they can. So, the fancy published plays we see at the bookstore and the acting editions we find in theater shops should not be used as examples for when we're sitting down to write a play.

The scripts that get sent to theaters, competitions, and agents and that are used in the rehearsal room of productions of new plays follow a standard format. (Note: Productions of older work mostly make use of published plays. So, those actors used to being in shows that are not "new" would also only be used to the improper playwriting format in books.)

The formatting rules that I'm providing here should serve as a general guideline. There's some flexibility in how things are done, and some variations from playwright to playwright are acceptable. The important things are to be consistent in whatever it is you choose to do and to make your script as easy to read as possible.

Print out the following play-formatting document for future reference. (Contact me if you want a PDF version of this sent to you.) Pass it along too, so I can single-handedly be responsible for setting the industry standard! This one-page document covers margins, font, stage directions, character names, dialogue, when to capitalize, and when to italicize. Click to enlarge:



A quick note about musicals. Capitalize all the lyrics. This will help readers separate the songs out from the rest of the script.

Okay, that's pretty much it. Do what I'm telling you! Any questions?
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3 Comments

  1. Literary managers and readers all over the country THANK YOU.

     

  2. timbauer Said,

    That looks nice. I'll be changing my margins immediately. I especially like the character names lined up with everything else instead of in the middle of the page.

    But what's up with the footer? Why not just a page number? Does it have something to do with the fact that "Prince" would then appear on every page?

     

  3. Ken, I knew you would like.

    Tim, I think just page numbers instead of full footers is fine. But I put in footers, yes, because I like my name appearing on every page. Also, if a wayward intern accidentally shuffles pages while making copies and the copies get mixed in with the tons of other scripts that may be in the copy room, then footers help re-organize your script.

     



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