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Writing advice

Ten Golden Rules: James Lark’s Guidelines for Writers


James Lark, a tutor on Radius workshops, creator of Miracles at Short Notice 

at the Edinburgh Fringe 2011 ( ‘a sophisticated treat’ – Musical Talk), and adapter of The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo for its 2014 tour, shares his ten golden rules.


Make sure everything you write is focused on

the story you’re telling

Ask yourself whether every scene and every

section of dialogue is essential and be prepared to cut anything that’s getting in the way of the story.



Characters need to be clearly defined and well developed

What drives them? How do they speak? Why are

we interested in them? They each ought to have a distinctive voice – their lines shouldn’t be inter-changeable.



Don’t write too much

In a play, less is usually more – it often takes

longer than you think for dialogue to be read out loud and if you write too much an audience will get bored. Also remember that your words will be acted, not just read, so not everything needs to be stated

in words.



Think about the kind of cast you are writing for

Is your play suitable for them? If you want your script to have widespread appeal it will need to

be approachable by less experienced actors.



Have realistic expectations about what can

be achieved

If you write a play requiring a cast of 100 and a huge set it’s unlikely to be performed very often! The more flexible your expectations, the more easily your play will adapt to the needs of a company.


Don’t overstate any message you may have in mind

Treat your audience as intelligent – meaning is always more powerful when people are allowed to

work it out for themselves.



Avoid faux-Bible language and dialogue that is too 'literary' in style

Listen to the way people speak in real conversations and try to imitate the same style in the way your characters speak. Real people don’t often use complex and lengthy sentences full of long words.



Try it out

Get some friends together to read or act through scenes so you can get a better idea of how what you’re writing works – it’s often very different in practice than it is in your head!



Don’t tell the actor how to act or the director

how to direct

Playwrights limit their stage directions to those which are absolutely essential, whether aimed at the cast or the crew. If your stage directions are long and wordy you’re probably writing too much.



Make sure your script is well-formatted and clear

Lines of dialogue should be indented and double spaced, stage directions distinguished with italics. Don’t make up your own complicated system – if in doubt, look at a published play and do exactly the same. Simplicity and clarity are vital for anyone using what you’ve written.

Radius helps and supports writers through workshops, personal advice and a script assessment service. Writers who submit their plays to Radius for assessment often say how helpful they find the reports from the Reading Panel. Here is a checklist of some of the main issues that writers need to

be aware of.

When we have found all the meanings

and lost all the mysteries, we will be alone,

on an empty shore.

Arcadia – Tom Stoppard, 1937-

Never written a play before but always wanted to? In this video, James Lark gives you five writing tips that cover script layout as well as the dos and don’ts when “telling the story”.  

Whether your play is biblical or contemporary, you need to get the background right. In this video, Sean Lang tells us that "all drama is period drama" and demonstrates how to use character and dialogue when dramatising a story set in the past.