21M.604 | Spring 2005 | Undergraduate
Playwriting I


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

Introduction to Playwriting is dedicated to process. Students learn to write plays by writing plays. The primary goal of the course is to encourage students to write quickly, fluidly, and fearlessly. Students will write one 10 minute play (approximately 10 pages) each week, or a 10 page scene which will be outlined in an assignment. Our emphasis is on experimentation and process.

The course will introduce the traditional approach to theatre which is rooted in character and narrative structure, with emphasis on a play’s arc through its beginning, turning point, and ending. In class exercises are designed to circumvent students’ first lines of defense, to silence the negative editor voice, to experience trusting first instincts, and to encourage students to write both visually and concretely. Each week’s assignment will introduce another element of craft, including high and low context dialogue, revealing action, the power of the unspoken word, disrupted ritual, etc.

After a session devoted to the ground rules of giving and receiving constructive feedback, work is read in class and the group responds. Character maps, clustering, storytelling from personal experience, and monologues are the starting points. Reading is a component; a short play or scene by a contemporary playwright will be read and discussed each week in class. These plays introduce students to the wide world of individual voices and styles, from David Ives’ comic, “Sure Thing,” to Jose Rivera’s poetic magical realism, “The Winged Man,” to Donald Margulies carefully orchestrated, “Last Tuesday.”
Rewriting follows feedback. The process may also include seminars with guest playwrights and seeing local productions. The final project of the semester will be a reading of the completed plays.

Writing Requirements/Final Projects

You will write a 10 minute play (approximately 10 pages) each week this semester or a 10 page scene which will be outlined in an assignment. Your final project can be either:

  1. One (1) expanded 10 minute play (a long one act of 20-30 pages) or
  2. Two to three (2-3) polished 10 minute plays. These would be 2nd or 3rd drafts of plays you have written during the course of the semester.

Writing Goals

Your goal should be to write between 10 and 15 pages a week. Many of these will be “false starts” that you throw away. Keep going.


I urge you to see as much theatre as possible this semester. See anything and everything on campus and at the Huntington, the ART, and the small theatres at the Boston Center for the Arts as well. We will try to plan one or 2 performances that we attend as a class.


  • Read, read, read. Read for inspiration, news, permission, ideas.
  • Read to find out what other playwrights are doing and how they are doing it.
  • Read one play per week minimum.
  • If you want to write you have to read.
  • Students often ask why we don’t do more reading/discussion in class. I would love to read and talk about plays with you. But that’s another class. This is a writing workshop. Reading plays is a lot easier than writing them.


  • You should keep a writing journal to record ideas, overheard conversations, made-up conversations, character profiles, research, images, titles, words you like the sound of, settings for scenes, etc.
  • Buy a notebook small enough to carry with you all the time.
  • Get in the habit of writing your ideas and your questions down. Keep a notebook next to your bed.
  • Write it down. Write it down. Write it down.
  • Date all your work.
  • Collect images, postcards.
  • Begin to pay attention to your imaginative life; feed it a little.
  • Make writing a habit.

Writer’s Block

  • I don’t believe in it.
  • It won’t work as an excuse.
  • If you’re having trouble writing, bring it to class and I’ll create exercises/assignments to help you overcome it.

What to Expect in Class

This class will be run as a workshop. Each week we will be reading our work out loud and critiquing it. We will create an atmosphere of trust and respect in order to mitigate this fairly terrifying process. Your participation in critiquing each other’s work is as important as your own written work. You will learn as much from each other’s successes and failures as from your own. We will be developing the skills and vocabulary to talk about plays, to recognize structure, story and content problems.

We will start each critique by telling the writer what we like about his or her work. We will follow up with questions: was anything confusing? Was the story line clear? Was the conflict strong enough? Were each character’s wants strong enough, etc.


Assignments 50%
Final Project 30%
Class Participation 20%

The factors in consideration beyond the quality of your writing include:

  • Attendance
  • Reading the Assigned Texts and Being Prepared for Discussion
  • Meeting the Assigned Deadlines for Scenes and Drafts
  • Degree of Improvement
  • Quality of your Critique of your Peers
  • Willingness and Ability to Rewrite
  • Quality of Final Manuscript
  • Quality of Final Reading
  • Meeting the Twenty Minute Time Limit of the Final Reading
Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2005
Learning Resource Types
group_work Projects with Examples
assignment Written Assignments