Jon Dorf has a wonderful Playwriting 101 site. Basic, sure, but everyone needs to get back to basics at times.
Here are Jon’s suggestions around story development:
1. Create a world that’s true to real life or fantastical or that mixes the mundane with the magical. But whatever set of rules you create for that world, make sure you follow them.
2. Write a conflict that builds as the play progresses. As you structure the conflict, think in terms of your play having a beginning, a middle and an end.
3. Write characters that want something (which puts them in conflict with other characters) and try to get what they want at every moment.
4. Make sure that each character has something at stake, a consequence if he doesn’t get what he wants.
5. Create a “ticking clock” that puts the characters under pressure to get what they want right away.
6. Make sure there is a good reason, an “event,” for your play. It’s not enough for two characters to sit around and talk for a while and then leave. There needs to be some important reason why we’re watching them now, at this particular moment.
7. Write dialogue that illuminates your characters and advances the plot at the same time.
8. Make each character speak in a distinctive voice. If you have trouble with that, try imagining a specific actor you know – even if it’s someone who will never play the part – in the role.
9. Do not have a character tell us something she can show us instead. For example, it’s much more effective to hide under the bed than to say “I’m afraid.”
10. Give each character a “moment,” something that justifies the character’s existence in your play and that makes him attractive for an actor to play.
While these are great basics, in my next post I’ll explain what other requirements playwrights might consider when crafting a satisfying play.