Write a Short Play! (4 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 2 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 3, click here!
FAQs About our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival
Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

Great news! Our deadline for short play submissions has been extended. Submissions for our short play festival are now due on August 8th, 2013

Now, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You have an extra week to write and submit a short play to Native Voices! We’re really excited to see what you come up with.

If you’ve been following our short play writing exercises, you’ll also be glad to know that it’s time for the fourth and final exercise: write the darn play!

Exercise 4: Write Your Short Play

For this exercise, it’s important to remember that there is an eraser on the end of your pencil (or correction fluid for your pen, or a backspace button on your keyboard). In other words, don't worry about getting your short play perfect the first time. Longtime Native Voices friend and award-winning playwright Rob Caisley reminded us of this saying:

“Don’t get it right, get it written!”

What you write today is just a first draft of many. Playwright, teacher, and Native Voices friend Julie Jensen emphasizes that each draft is “just an experiment. Nothing to fear, nothing to worry about.” You can always rewrite it. In fact, you should rewrite as part of your process.

“The difference between a so-so play and a good play is REWRITING,” Rob adds. “The difference between and good play and a great play is REWRITING. But until you've got a first draft, you've got nothing to improve.”

With this advice fresh in mind, return to your main character and antagonist. In the last exercise, your antagonist came up with 10 different ways to thwart your main character in his/her struggle to achieve their goal. In my example, Joe was doing everything he could to stop Jane from breaking up with him. His efforts included destroying his phone to avoid break-up texts, and physically chasing Jane down if she tried to run away. A crisis was ready to erupt between Jane and Joe. Time to write a confrontation!

Try writing a short play with your main character and antagonist. It doesn’t have to be very long (a short play can be as few as 5 pages long to submit to Native Voices).
  • Use at least three of your main character’s tactics to get what they want, and have your antagonist make at least three countermoves. 
  • Make the two characters worthy opponents– both should have something to gain, or something to lose (ex., Jane wants to gain freedom, while Joe doesn’t want to lose comfort/love/security/etc.). 
Once you have written your short play or scene, REWRITE it! Shake it up! Find a way turn it on its head. 
  • If your main character won what he/she wanted, then rewrite an ending where your antagonist gives one last, lethal blow, preventing the main character from attaining happiness. 
  • If your main character lost what he/she wanted, rewrite an ending where he/she gets a burst of potent energy and finds a way to achieve their goal. 
I won’t post the full script of Jane & Joe (Don’t) Break Up here. Be thankful! This literary assistant is happy to stick to reading plays, not writing them.

With an entire week left to write your short play, I hope to have plenty of reading to do when August 8th arrives. Remember, you can submit up to three (3) plays in each category, short or full-length. So send them in! Happy writing!

The deadline for short play submissions is now August 8th, 2013. For more info about our annual call for scripts, click here
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Write a Short Play! (3 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
For Part 2 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here!
FAQs About our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival
Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines


By now, you should have thought of
  • A character
  • Something he/she is going to do, and 10 different ways to do it
If you're like me, you have Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" stuck in your head, too.

Ready for part 3?

Exercise 3: The Antagonist

Conflict is central to most plays. As Julie Jensen, playwright, playwriting teacher, and friend of Native Voices says, "Someone wants something, someone else is in the way. Write that exchange, that negotiation, that argument."

Your main character wants something, but... someone is in the way: the antagonist. Think Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Harry Potter and Voldemort. Aragorn and Sauron!

Who is standing in your main character's way? And moreover, what does this antagonist need from your main character? It could be an item or object– something physical and tangible– or it could be an emotion (respect, love, admiration, etc).

What will the antagonist do to try to get this thing from your character, or to keep it? List 10 different ways your antagonist will counteract your main character. For each of the 10 ways your character pursued an action in the previous exercise, come up with 10 realistic ways for your antagonist to stop them.

In my example for Exercise 2, I decided that Jane wanted to break up with her boyfriend. Today, her boyfriend, Joe, needs her to stay. He desperately loves her and won't take no for an answer!

Joe must keep Jane from breaking up with him. He can...

1. Fake having bad reception on his phone so that she can't break up with him by phone call
2. Break his phone on purpose to avoid receiving the break-up text
3. Ignore all of his emails, or set his inbox to recognize Jane's mail as spam
4. Take Jane to a very crowded, public place on Valentine's Day, where it will be difficult and embarrassing for her to break up with him
5. Fall asleep or run out for dessert immediately after dinner to avoid a post-dinner break up conversation
6. Whisk Jane away on a romantic vacation to someplace she's always wanted to go, so she can't pack her bags and leave
7. Refuse to leave, because the apartment, furniture, and dog belong to him, too
8. Undertake a missing persons search, including pictures on milk cartons and ads, and a private investigator, so that Jane can't easily fake her own death or simply disappear
9. Be the best boyfriend ever, so that Jane's attempts to make him break up with her go awry
10. Put on his sneakers and literally chase Jane down the street if she tries to run away from him

As you might imagine, Jane is going to get very irritated with Joe. Joe is probably very upset with Jane. Yikes! It seems inevitable that my protagonist and antagonist will have some kind of argument or altercation.

Who is your antagonist, and what does he/she want? What are 10 ways he/she will get in the way of your main character? What kind of argument or confrontation are they likely to have?

Revisit the blog soon to try Exercise 4: The Short Play!

For more info about our annual call for scripts, click here.
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Write a Short Play! (2 of 4)

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For Part 1 in the "Write a Short Play" series, click here

Annual Call for Scripts: Submission Guidelines

Did you manage to think of a great character over the weekend? Ready to do something with him or her? Excellent! Let's go...

Exercise 2: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Your character might be leaving their lover, or running for office, or both! Now that you have a character, what action will he or she take?

Once you've thought of something your character does, think about how many different ways your character can do this thing. Think of the song, "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."


Make a list of 10 different ways your character can do the action you've thought of.

So, for example, Jane is breaking up with her boyfriend. She can:

1. Call
2. Text
3. Email
4. Wait until Valentine's Day
5. Have a compassionate conversation with him after dinner
6. Pack her bags and leave
7. Tell him to leave
8. Fake her own death
9. Force him to break up with her first
10. Put on her sneakers and literally run away

The list could go on, with a little creative thinking.

Obviously, some of these options merit explanation or justification if you plan to use them in your short play. (Take #8 for example. You're probably thinking, "...Seriously?" I know, I know. This is why yours truly is just a literary assistant, not a playwright. You're the brilliant ones!)

You'll have to think about the circumstances that surround what your character does, as well as the believability of your character's actions. Why does he or she want to do this thing? What consequences will he or she face if she takes any of these actions? Is it likely that he or she will be successful?

Naturally, your next impulse may be to decide what's getting in his or her way. Jane wants to break up with her boyfriend, but... what? You'll have to visit the blog again to find out!

Make a list of 10 ways for your character to take an action, and come back for Part 3!

To find more information about our annual call for scripts, click here. 

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Write A Short Play! (1 of 4)

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Want to write a short play, but don't know where to start?

Not a problem! We'll give you four easy exercises to get your writerly brain juices flowing. Check it out...

Exercise 1: Think of a Character

We're starting with something simple. Choose a character– but not just any character. Choose a character you can see doing something. This character is someone who's going to take action. In other words, this is your protagonist, your main character, your activist.

He or she probably wants something. He/She must want it badly, too! Whatever he/she desires, they're going to do whatever they can to get it.

So, for now– A character, who is likely to do something, because he/she has a strong want.

What is your character going to do?  Stay tuned for part 2 to find out!

Parts 2, 3, and 4 coming soon!

Follow this link to guidelines for our annual call for scripts.



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FAQs About Our 3rd Annual Short Play Festival

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Here are the answers to some common questions we've received about this year's Short Play Fest.

For our complete submission guidelines, click here!

1) What is this year’s theme?

This year’s theme is “Legal Briefs: Lawmakers and Activists,” for which we invite a wide range of short scripts.

2) What should my play be about?

Plays can explore a wide range of stories about how the American legal system, the law, and our daily lives are shaped by Native American identity and culture and the lawmakers and activists it has given us. How do Native Americans uphold and honor, question and investigate, or create and change law within our society? Plays do not need to be biographical or autobiographical. Use your imagination!

3) Does my play need to be about an actual person or event?

No. You can create a fictional character and event to tell your story. Remember, an activist is not necessarily just a famous face or politician. When we say “activists,” we think of all kinds of people who are working to do big things in Native American communities. An activist can be a teacher, a respected elder or community member, or even a young person. An activist is anyone who is striving to make a positive change.

4) How long should my play be?

We ask that short plays be 5 to 16 pages long.

5) Do I have to be an experienced writer to submit my short play to Native Voices at the Autry?

No. In fact, short plays can be a great opportunity for someone who has never written a play before to give it a try. Anyone can write and submit a play, no matter what age or how skilled they are. Mostly, we are looking for good stories rather than perfect playwriting technique!

6) If I have submitted plays to Native Voices in the past, am I still eligible to submit a short play this year?

Of course. We encourage writers who have worked with us before to continue submitting scripts to us. Also, this is a great opportunity for experienced writers to work on an idea without committing to a full-length, 60+ page script. We sometimes even receive excellent revisions of scripts that began as short plays.

7) How many characters can I use?

We ask that you use four characters or less in your script.

8) How many locations can I have in my play?

Technically, you can have as many locations as you like. But keep in mind that we have to stage the play in a theater– that means we don’t have the luxury of multiple locations. It is recommended that you use one or two settings to keep your short play clear, simple, and stageable which will also allow for multiple plays to be staged in a festival performance.

9) Are there any guidelines for writing a short play online?

Actor’s Theatre of Louisville offers a quick and simple guide for their New Voices Ten-Minute Play Festival that you may find helpful. It’s geared for young writers - but these tips apply to all writers. You should check out the submission guidelines for their Ten-Minute Play Festival, too! Their submission deadline is October 31, 2013, and there’s a $1,000 cash award for the winner of the festival. Write and submit to both Native Voices and ATL!

Actor’s Theatre of Louisville’s “The Art of the Ten-Minute Play”

Actor's Theatre of Louisville Submission Guidelines

10) Feeling Stumped?

Try this: Make a list of 5 different conflicts, 5 “clocks,” and 5 settings or places. Pick one from each category at random, and see where your imagination takes you. Here are some examples below. Feel free to use these, or create your own lists!

Example: 5 Conflicts

1. A teacher/coach confronts the system for the good of her/his students.
2. An unlikely leader seeks better healthcare for their community.
3. A child is taken from its family/tribal community.
4. A young man discovers a poisoned watering hole.
5. A young woman is forced to choose between tribal law and US military law.

5 Clocks (*Remember: these are things that add a sense of urgency, excitement, or pressing need to your play)
1. The day of a public hearing
2. The end of a loved one’s battle with disease
3. The morning of a ribbon cutting ceremony
4. The day of the big championship
5. The last day of the year

5 Settings or Places
1. A Taos pueblo
2. A city/community hall
3. A kitchen
4. In a moving car
5. A tribal council

Our short play deadline is August 1st, 2013. We're excited to see your work! 

For complete submission guidelines, click here
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