Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tips for Writing Kids' Plays

If you write for children, don't limit yourself to traditional fiction. Use your story-telling skills to create plays kids will love. Here are a few suggestions about how to do it:

                         1)     Be realistic. Your script probably won't be performed on Broadway or turned into a blockbuster movie. Avoid special effects, amazing stunts, or anything else that can't be accomplished by ordinary kids. Keep costumes, sets, and props to a minimum. Writing in the readers theatre format is one of the best ways to create a play that's simple to stage but exciting in content.

2)     Use an adjustable cast.  Of course, you want to follow publishers' guidelines about size of cast and number of female/male roles. But you can make your play adaptable to various situations by building in some casting flexibility. When possible, include group characters like "Other Students" or "Rest of Student Council." Use some unisex names for characters or double up on titles, such as "Aunt/Uncle" or "Mr./Ms." Adding a narrator provides a large  and handy gender neutral part.

3)     Spread the glory around. Not only is it difficult for one kid to carry most of a play, it's just no fun. All the actors want to have their moment – and their parents expect to see it. Instead of letting your main character do all the talking, distribute lines among a number of roles. If you use group characters (see #2), give them lines that allow for adlibs so everyone gets to say something. For example:
             Other Students: What? Are you kidding? I don't believe it! (Etc.)
           And most importantly, give secondary characters interesting personalities and some problems of their own – that makes them fun to play and entertaining to watch.

4)     Make sure your dialogue rings true. Some characters need to sound pompous, old-fashioned, affected, formal, or otherwise theatrical. Those parts are usually easy to write! Creating realistic dialogue for contemporary young characters can be much more challenging. Real kids don't speak lyrically, reciting over-their-heads vocabulary with perfect grammar. They use contractions and slang, start new sentences without finishing old ones, and interrupt each other. Listen to kids talk to get an idea of how to recreate their conversations, read your dialogue out loud with a critical ear, and polish, polish, polish. Nothing is more essential to a good play than well-written dialogue!  

5)     Step outside the box. Today's kids are used to media that breaks boundaries. They've experienced actors who speak directly to the camera, characters who "know" they're in a television program, and games that allow almost-real interaction. So don’t be afraid to experiment a little with your play! Let the narrator express personal opinions about what's happening onstage. Allow your main character to argue with the narrator. Place a heckler in the audience or bring an audience member on stage. This kind of creativity works especially well in humorous scripts, but it can also add emotional impact to serious plays.

6)     Tell a story. Despite its different format, a play is still a story – and you want to make it a good one! Create a relatable main character, give him/her a problem worth caring about, go through a complete story arc, end up with a good lesson that's not too heavy-handed, etc., etc., just as you would when writing a kids' story or book. This doesn't just apply to serious drama – funny plays need to be well-written, too! Skits constructed of nothing but jokes, gags, and one-liners can be fun, but they're not really satisfying to audiences, young performers, or the adults who work with kids. Make your script meaningful, as well as entertaining. That's the kind of play that gets published and performed!

Want to sell your plays? Here are some possible markets.