Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Scriptwriting: Presentation and Workshop Samples

‘Get Shorty’: One-Act Plays and Short Film as a ‘Way In’ to Scriptwriting (C)

James Patrick Kelly and Elizabeth Searle

Are you curious to try scriptwriting but have no idea how to 'break in'?  Short films and One Act Plays provide a do-able entree for neophytes into the worlds of film and theater writing. We will share very practical advice on creating a one-act work, entering the film and theater festival circuit, and building on those beginnings to work toward full length productions.  We will view/perform brief examples of this form and discuss as a group the elements that go into making a dramatic piece stand on its own, no matter how short.  

The presentation will combine lecture, staged-reading excerpts and some in-class brainstorming and freewriting exercises.  We welcome students from all genres to consider trying their hand at scriptwriting, ‘in short’.

Required Reading:

Michael Wright, Playwriting in Process: Thinking and Working Theatrically


Read AT LEAST ONE SHORT PLAY from the anthology below OR from a Best Short Plays anthology (these are published yearly and widely available in libraries).

Reading Assignment:

Bring to class a list of the elements you think makes the play succeed (or not). Ask yourself what makes the play form (or not form) a satisfying, if short, whole.

Suggested Anthology:

Laugh Lines:

Short Comic Plays

Random House; edited by Nina Shengold

Suggested Additional Reading: 

Gary Garrison, A More Perfect Ten: Writing and Producing the Ten-Minute Play

From Page to Stage (C, CC )

James Patrick Kelly, Mike Kimball, David Mura, Elizabeth Searle

Screenwriters and playwrights Jim Kelly, Mike Kimball, David Mura & Elizabeth Searle will use staged readings of scenes from film and theatre (cast with student volunteers) that illustrate some of the key elements in character, relationship, and story development that can make dialogue come to life. Topics to be covered will include: anticipation, reversal, character progression, dramatic tension, suspense, story & the three-act structure. Script excerpts from Raging Bull, Good Will Hunting, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Iceman Cometh, etc, etc, etc.

Open to students of all genres; the lessons of live drama and its unique demands can also be applied to other forms of narrative.  We all want to keep our audience on the edge of their seats, eager to hear every word. 

Required Reading:

Michael Tierno, Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters

Putting an End to Wild West Shows: Making Native American Theater Legitimate Rather Than a Novelty (C, CC)

William S. Yellow Robe, Jr.,

William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., a member of the Assiniboine Tribe and one of the leading Native American playwrights in the country, discusses his relationship with the art medium of theater; he has specialized in playwriting to develop the Native American tribal voice within an art medium introduced to the Americas through colonialism.  Yellow Robe will share his unique perceptions of how to overcome Euro-American and European ethocentricities encountered while working within the art medium, and move from novelty to legitimacy.

Required Reading:

William Yellow Robe, Grandchildren of the Buffalo Soldiers and Other Untold Stories

Hanay Geiogamah and Jaye Darby, eds., American Indian Performing Arts: Critical Directions

How Learning the Rules of Screenwriting Can Help Your Prose (C, CC)

Norit Koppel

In this presentation we will become familiar with the limitations built into screenwriting, and discover how these very limitations can in fact liberate the story we are trying to tell. We will learn that bare can lead us to elegance, directing us to ask: Is this necessary? How badly do I want to say this? Am I exhausting the reader’s attention? Is less better in this case, or do I allow myself the freedom to go in this direction for a while?

After reading excerpts pulled from novels and short stories, we will examine the scripted version of the same material, before screening the produced result. We will then take our own writing from the class and adapt it into screenplay structure, experiencing the challenge of screenwriting firsthand.

Required Reading:

Viki King, How to Write a Movie in 21 Days: The Inner Movie Method

Suggested Reading:

Richard Krevolin, How to Adapt Anything into a Screenplay

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative