The University of Iowa

A Play in a Week: The Building Blocks of Playwriting

Weeklong July 12 to July 17 2020

Words and actions, these are the fundamental building blocks of plays. Subtext, motivation, desire, emotion, humor, suspense… how do you communicate these if you don’t have those long descriptive paragraphs where a character remembers her childhood or anticipates the end of his relationship? (Sure, you can put in lots of stage directions but no one reads those.) Hint: you communicate all of this and more through what your characters SAY and what they DO. The rest, as Hamlet says, is silence. And that’s essential too.


The goal of this workshop is to dig into the building blocks of playwriting: character and action, dialogue and subtext, plot and structure. We will use examples from some of the modern masters: Miller, Churchill, Pinter, Wallace, Ruhl, Kushner (and others) to borrow from the best. We will read our work out loud every day. It’s the only way to know if it is working. We will generate a lot of writing through short in-class exercises and daily homework assignments. In the end, you will likely have the beginnings of a play. You will definitely have a diverse collection of scenes and characters to draw from, and a better understanding of how to write dialogue that propels your story forward. This is a workshop for writers of all levels and backgrounds. No prior playwriting experience required.


In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.