The ability to plan effectively is critical. The majority of plays are built around the premise of someone who wants something, who encounters an impediment (either external or internal), and then struggles with this obstacle until a desired outcome is achieved (or until the play is over). For example, Hamlet desires to assassinate his uncle Claudius but encounters internal obstacles (Hamlet, Prince of Darkness); Blanche DuBois desires to settle down in a conventional marriage in New Orleans but is opposed to this by Stanley Kowalski (Blanche DuBois, Blanche DuBois, Blanche DuBois, Blanche DuBois, Blanche DuBois, Blanche DuBois, Blanche DuBois, Blanc (A Streetcar Named Desire). Each character’s desires must be provided by the playwright, who must then select which desires will be satisfied and which will be thwarted. A lack of tension will result from too little of hurdles, while an excessive number of obstacles will result in the play losing its credibility. If the play has a large number of characters, the author must arrange the action so that all of the different desires and struggles on the stage can be intertwined. It is no accident that one of the definitions of drama includes the word “conflict” in it. The playwright must be able to construct plausible conflicts that will capture the audience’s interest while they are watching.
Developing a strong sense of character is another ability that the writer for the theatre must develop. Rather of being “flat,” characters in realistic drama, which is still the most popular type, must be “round” rather than “flat,” which means that they must have numerous dimensions, a thinkable combination of virtues and vices, as well as the desires, hopes, inhibitions, and fears of real people. Every successful writer is also a good psychologist, understanding that, for example, Biff Loman still loves Willy Loman (Death of a Salesman), Amanda Wingfield is more than just a harridan (The Glass Menagerie), and Iago’s various justifications for his hatred of Othello (Othello, the Moor of Venice) are the products of a man who fundamentally does not understand himself (Othello, the Moor of Venice). In order to create a whole character once a performer takes on the part, the playwright must learn to outline characters in such a way that they may be realised as a whole personality. This is a skill that can only be cultivated via collaboration with the actors and the director: for the writer, there is no replacement for witnessing their characters perform live on stage. Despite this, knowledgeable readers’ remarks and even a cold reading with non-professionals playing the play’s parts can provide valuable insight into the writing process.
Then there’s the exchange of ideas. When it comes to dialogue, the playwright must strive to create a credible style of speech that avoids cliché and artificiality while also changing with the needs of the characters. For example, a philosophy professor should not sound like a dog trainer, and a harried urban shop girl should not sound like an affluent heiress. A good dialogue’s secret is selectivity—finding the conversation that most accurately reflects the lives of the speakers, finding the expression that conveys more meaning than it is intended to convey, and finding the word that the audience can absorb and interpret almost instantly. That the absurdities of Ionesco, the elegance of Shaw, and the repeated expletives of Mamet are sometimes more appropriate than the more “authentic” sounding sounds from the real world outside the theatre is something that the playwright must be aware of as he or she develops their dialogue. For another thing, dialogue that is “on-the-nose,” in which characters say exactly what they mean, is not nearly as interesting as dialogue that is “off-the-nose,” in which characters proceed through indirection and ambiguity. Some playwrights, such as Chekhov and Pinter, use a technique that might be described as “pause-and-effect.” Another type of poetic diction, as used by Beckett, is highly charged and carries significantly more energy than a more conventional vocabulary. Every play, the playwright will discover, has its own unique set of requirements when it comes to dialogue, and the writer will have to learn to readjust with each new work in this regard.
Then there’s the matter of the theme. It is not enough for a writer to depict individuals who are engaging in exciting conversation with one another while performing some activity; the playwright must also have something to say. A typical play could take up to two hours of a busy, burdened audience member’s valuable time. In this way, the playwright is no different from the novelist or poet: they must have a purpose that the literary work embodies, a theme or belief that the drama expresses, and they must have a purpose that the literary work embodies. An example of this is Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, where the theme is socio-political; another example is Hedda Gabler, where the theme is psychological; and another example is The Master Builder, which is a late play by Ibsen in which the theme is metaphysical. The first and most important commandment for playwrights is, “Thou must not waste the time of the audience.” Like readers of short stories or novels, theatregoers want to be repaid for their time and money spent watching a play. If they are fortunate, they will discover that the dramatist has revealed some aspect of human life, possibly making existence a little more understandable. It is a testament to the talent of a playwright when they are able to shed a little light on the lives of their audiences. Such a writer does not have to be concerned about their efforts being squandered.