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For the Next Ten Minutes: Tips for Writing Ten Minute Scenes

The Thespian Thoughts blog posts are meant to be a college student’s point of view on various topics in the world of theater to educate all on what encompasses this particular area of the arts.

Hello Readers! This week’s Thespian Thoughts is going to overlap a bit with The Writer’s Workshop as I am going to pass on to you the best tips I have been given in regards to writing ten minute scenes. What’s a ten minute scene? It is exactly what it sounds like, a theatrical play that runs the length of ten minutes. I have written a few myself and each time it is daunting to try and fit an entire story in such a seemingly short amount of time, but with the help of my fellow playwrights I have learned the following pieces of handy advice.

Read Plays: To write anything you have to first read good examples of the genre. This will teach you what works for different playwrights and help you establish your own personal writing style. Do you like lots of detail or are you more of a minimalist? Do you include lots of stage direction or do you leave your character’s physical moments up to the director? All options are valid and it is up to you as the playwright to determine what works best for yourself and/or the particular piece you are writing.

Punctuation Matters: When writing a play be purposeful with your punctuation. The punctuation used can totally change the meaning and intention behind a line especially if actors are expected to read them exactly as they are written. This also goes for uses of pauses, beats and silences.

Small Moments: When aiming to write a play that will only exist for ten minutes, it is better to focus on a small moment in time rather than a big picture. Don’t push yourself to tell an entire life’s story in such a time limit. It is okay for a scene to take place in what seems like only a blip in the scope of history, but actually be a fully formed and fleshed out slice of life.

Scenic and Lighting Design: While it is alright for your writing to be detailed, I would recommend writing a ten minute scene with a very minimalistic set as theaters would not want to use their limited resources and stage crew’s hard work to build an extensive set for a scene that is so short. Only include set description of what is absolutely necessary and do not forget that lighting can also establish time and place.

Conversational Tone: Because plays are mostly dialogue, one must know how to write realistic conversational tone. Listen around you and hear how real people talk and then translate that into your script. What slang and expressions do they use? Do they clip their sentences or use shorthand but you still understand their point? Does the setting of your play change any of this? Good conversational tone will make your characters feel more real to your audience.

Characters and Actors: When creating characters for your 10 minute scene be sparing. Only use as many people as you actually need to pull off your story. For minor roles consider if an actor could be double cast rather than adding an extra body on stage. Also be sure to bear in mind that race and gender of a character does not always matter. If a character can be played by anyone, the easier and more interesting it will be to cast your show.

I hope these tips will help all you playwrights out there create some awesome ten minute scenes! If you do write one or already have I encourage you to enter them into our dramatic works contest that we have running from now until midnight April 8th. See our Facebook page or website post for details!



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