How do you write a short theatre script?

My Writing Process – Part 1 – Theatre Scriptwriting Collaboration

I’m currently working on a 60-minute play called Possession with two other writing colleagues from Darkstuff Productions. In this post, I lift the bonnet for you to see the workings of this process and how an individual writes a third of an hour-long script.

Collaborative writing, Jamboards and Zooooom

A page equates to about a minute’s worth of action, so in principle, it’s 20 pages we each needed to write, and then edit. It’s been a fun process so far. We started with the seed of an idea, began sharing thoughts on the two characters, the setting, their respective backgrounds and some action in the story via regular three-way Zoom calls.

We used Google Jamboards to share ideas, then took keywords from those sessions to speed-write monologues and create a series of tableaus or snapshot scenes for potential use in the play.

Then the big clock in the metaphorical room began ticking with increasing urgency. The director wanted to see a script. The venue wanted an image and copy for the programme. We had about 15 minutes of a first draft. Everyone around us was distinctly edgy.

We weren’t. We’re writers. We know that a tight deadline is a sort of cortisol fuelled energy blanket. The ideal conditions for writing under. Here’s how I tackled the next stage of writing…

Much of the writing process isn’t spent writing

As I say regularly to the writers I work with, so much of the writing process isn’t actually in the writing. Certainly not in the linear way we often think about a story – which it’s worth remembering is usually from the viewpoint of our role as readers and consumers of story, not creators.

My practice of writing Possession has involved, for example, listening to some haunted house podcasts whilst running in the dark, rainy evenings of the early months of the year. It involved (re)reading other plays at bedtime, including classics such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Birthday Party, that had come up in our team Zoom conversations.

As new sections of our play became available (shared via Google Docs) I read them, often at bedtime and especially on the nights before the mornings I was due to write my parts. After reading I scribbled down notes, thoughts and questions in my journal, before finally shutting off the light and going to sleep.

Justifying their existence

In the morning, scenes and lines would come to me – clichéd and inconveniently in the shower on one occasion. Leaping out I caught a few words on a scrap of paper, in between pulling on clothes and towelling my hair. I’d arrive at my desk dripping with parts of scenes. Often overwritten, too long-winded or expositional but they were words, possibly the most important words, the ones that lead us eventually towards the pick of those that make it through the edit to the final draft.

In my broader writing life of late, I’ve spent more time writing articles, short stories, and a draft of a novel, so script writing in many senses is a heady alternative. You can let rip dialogically in a way that tends to be frowned upon in other forms of writing. But, and here’s the catch, those lines have to do a heck of a lot of work. Just like in any other form of storytelling lines of dialogue have to justify their existence, to pay their own way. They can’t be repetitive or extraneous. They have to sound like real speech without actually being real speech. They have to have more drama, movement, action and surprise in them than you would normally expect over a morning coffee. But also, not too much!

Fundamentally the lines of speech in a script, unlike any other form of writing, have to stand by and for themselves. Whilst you can give a little extra info through stage directions, you need to hold back on going too crazy in this respect or risk the wrath of the director. The writing part of a play is after all only a slice of the overall creative pie…

An exploding sheep

As a writing team of three, we met when the script was 95% complete, did a final read-through, talked about any issues, our vision for the ending, and assigned ourselves tasks – adding the ending, doing a thorough tight line edit and doing a final dramaturgical sweep. Then boom, our piece landed in the inboxes of our director and actors like an exploding sheep.

It’s been a blast writing this, the first of three plays we’re creating this year. How on earth we’re managing to write a play when there are three cooks in the creative kitchen is a question we’ll be sharing more thoughts on over at the Darkstuff Productions website soon.

View from the RidleyWrites bridge

My stake in the ground with RidleyWrites however is that whilst writing is a solitary business, we’ve all been sold a pup that it’s something to be done alone. The lonely artist shut away in their ivory tower, writing words of brilliance and beauty is a fallacy. Storytelling comes from and belongs within the collective. Even the great white male writers of the present and past have their teams of people around them, involved in the process – and more so than we have been led to believe.

Admittedly three people writing one story is on the more extreme end of the sort of collaboration I encourage and champion. That said, and as I hope this post helps illuminate, whilst lots of the act of storytelling creation may be solitary, it isn’t something that happens either in isolation to other people or in the margins of our lives. Rather writing comes with us wherever we go – for a run, into the shower, to sleep at night.


This post is part of a series of posts revealing my writing process as a way of uncovering and challenging narratives that hold many of us back in terms of ‘how real writers write’.

If you are interested in finding some time for your writing why not join one of our free weekly writing rooms – either on a Tuesday evening at 8pm or a Friday lunchtime at 12pm?

If you’d like to have a chat about your own writing project and ideas you can book a free 30-minute chat with me via Calendly

And if you’re looking for some weekly insights and writing tips, why not sign up to my newsletter here.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close