Why I Write My Scripts Without a Plot

Erik Bailey

  • OnStage Columnist

Growing up we've always been told “make sure you plan what you're writing” and teachers did everything they could to make us do that. I still remember having to fill out graphic organizers. But I've always found that I write better when I don't plan my plot or my story arch. 

Writing plays is a passion of mine. I don't write as often as I should, but when I do I feel creative and proud. What puts me apart from other playwrights is I don't plan my plots. I choose my characters and I let them decide their fate. I'll usually have some plot ideas chosen, like will it be a happy or sad ending? , will someone die?, etc. An example of my work can be found here: https://youtu.be/RKYXD9gKG20. I didn't come up with the characters in this play, but I did write the script (there’s more information about that in the description of the video). 

The one thing I hate in a play or musical is when the dialogue feels forced. There are just some plays where the dialogue doesn't feel quite natural and you think to yourself “would that person really say that?” And the answer is usually no, except they just did. I find that when I write without a completely planned plot, the dialogue becomes more free flowing and natural because of my next point…

There are some plays where everything feels like it’s happening. Sometimes this is because of a time restriction (an example of that is in the play I linked to earlier. We had a time limit of about ten minutes so things had to move quickly). However, it can sometimes be because of the fact that the playwright is trying too hard to hit all of their plot points and before they know it they're already at the climax and they aren't even halfway through scene two. 

Another thing that I avoid by writing without a planned plot is the opposite of that. Sometimes plays will take way too long to get through their plot. The playwright is trying not to rush the plot so instead they fill it with pointless dialogue that doesn't even remotely push the plot further.

The final reason I prefer free-flow writing is that I have the freedom to take it wherever I want. I'm not set to this road of this, this, and this need to happen. I'm free to take it wherever I want. 

I'm not saying that all playwrights who plan their details ahead of time aren't good playwrights. Everyone has a different way of writing, this one just happens to be mine.