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Advanced Playwriting

1: Dramatic Writing


Students will demonstrate their understanding of the difference between narrative and dramatic writing by creating scenes where story is told mostly through action.

Materials Needed

• White board
• 2 copies of the first 12 lines of Hamlet Opening Lines of Hamlet

Lesson Directions

Anticipatory Set/Hook

Ask the students which of the following scenarios would be most interesting:
1. A drunk sits at a bar and starts telling the audience the story of his life. He tells anecdote after anecdote of how difficult his life has been and that he has been misunderstood and frustrated by everyone he has met and known. The stories are entertaining and well told and they all illustrate the same point: which is why this man has ended up as the hopeless drunk that we see today.
2. A man sitting at a bar doesn’t say a word. Instead he picks up a bottle and throws it against a wall.


TRANSITION: Why did you make the choice you did? In creating monologues, we talked of active and passive audition pieces, can these be defined one way or another? (The first piece is passive according to our definitions, the second is active.)

STEP 1: Instruction: Explain that the first piece is narrative. Like fiction, it uses words in order to tell its story. The audience functions as a reader and is given all of the information they need. Why is it effective? The second is dramatic. We see actions, and we as an audience take a more active part since we have to make decisions about why what we are seeing is happening. Why is it effective? Which do you prefer as an audience? Which do you prefer as an actor? Although some students may prefer narrative scripts, the focus is scripts for this unit will be dramatic.

STEP 2: Instruction: Write the rule of theatre on the board: Don’t tell us, show us! Explain that this rule makes theatre unique from other literary styles.

STEP 3: Pass out a paper with the first twelve lines of Hamlet written on it. Have the actors review the scene and become familiar with it as you introduce it to the class. Explain that although Shakespeare is considered a literary writer because of the poetry of his language, he knows that it is important to show instead of tell.

STEP 4: Before the students present the scene, have them look for clues in the script about how to perform the scene. Where and when is the action taking place. What is the emotional state of each? Have two actors “perform” the scene. You can turn off some of the lights in the room to create a night atmosphere and give prop weapons to the actors.

STEP 5: Ask the class what they are “told” in these lines? What information do we learn about these people, their situation by their actions and conversation? Hopefully students will state information such as names, occupation, the relationship of the two characters, the need for guards and passwords suggests an environment in conflict, the anxiety of characters hint that something unusual has happened.

STEP 6: On the board, write Actions, Visuals, and Stakes. Under each word, list what actions, visuals, and stakes are shown in the first 12 lines of Hamlet. Example: Actions – Changing of the guard, sharing fears Visuals – Drawing of weapons, dark nightscape Stakes – Francisco willing to use weapon (kill or injure) twice

STEP 7: Have the students rewrite the first 12 lines of Hamlet in a narrative form, having all characters express what the class got out of the scene with their lines only. (For example—have the scenes start by having a character say, “I sure am cold and scared tonight.” Have some students share their scripts.

STEP 8: Have the students take out a piece of paper and have them write a narrative and dramatic version of each of the following situations:
A character expressing a specific fear.
A character expressing love for another.

STEP 9: Have students share their scripts and talk about the power of dramatic writing.


The students can be assessed by turning in their narrative and dramatic scenes.