What does a playwright do?

To be, or not to be? That is the question. Unless you’re William Shakespeare, that is, in which case it’s a line of dialogue that you wrote for Actors to perform on stage. After all, Shakespeare was a Playwright, and that’s what Playwrights do.

As a Playwright, you may specialize in comedy or tragedy. Either way, you write the words that are spoken on stage during theatrical performances. In fact, you write entire stories, including their plots, settings, characters, conflicts, and resolutions.

In that sense, you’re just like other Fiction Writers. The similarity ends there, however.

Because you write plays, operas, and musicals, your style is unique. Your stories can’t just be told; they must be seen and heard. You can’t describe a place, therefore; you have to show it. Similarly, you can’t tell the audience something happened; you have to write dialogue between your characters so they can hear it.

Simply put, you’re writing to be performed, not read. Your work as a Playwright is therefore equal parts narrative and instruction booklet. When you tell a story, you also give orders: You tell Actors what to say, when to say it, and sometimes how to say it, as well as what to do with their body while they’re speaking. You write similar instructions for the stage crew, describing everything from set and costumes to lighting and sound effects.

You might collaborate with a Composer or Choreographer, and you might also act as Producer, Director, or even Actor. Perhaps your most important role, however, is that of audience member – when you eventually see your play performed!