Playwriting Exercise: The List


Today’s exercise is all about the list and the time limit. Both of which are excellent motivators in getting words on the page. That is the key to writing. We are writers, we are not waiting to writers. So get words on the page in whatever fashion works. Lists work. Lists are not sentences, or lines of dialogue or paragraphs. They were merely one word after the other. You don’t need to be fancy, you don’t need to be interesting, you just need to write a list. And guess what, lists count. There is no rule about what makes a writer – lines of dialogues, paragraphs, or sentences. What counts are words on the page. In a list. Do it. Really.

Want words on the page? Use a time limit. I love time limits. A pencil, a piece of paper, a time limit and go. Get words on the page. Don’t think about the quality of the words, the silliness of the words, the sophistication of the words, these are good, these are bad, these are ugly. Don’t think, just write.

First, the sooner you get in the habit of getting the good, the bad and the ugly on the page, the easier it will be to fight writers block, to fight your inner critic and be a writer. The easier it will be to become a consistent writer. Secondly, you can’t re-write something that lives in your head. It needs to be written down. So again, what ever fashion works for you.

I found these over on Ideas Tap in an interview with playwright Simon Stephens. These exercises are his. Before we get to them, I want to share his definition of the word playwright.

Think about the spelling of the word playwright in the English language. Linguistically, it doesn’t stem from the verb to write, but from the verb to wraught. You are a playwright in the way that a shipwright or wheelwright or the cartwrights are wrights. You are a shaper or maker of a play. 

I. Love. This.  I love the image of being a shipbuilder of words. Makes me want to get a hammer and build something. It’s all about craft isn’t it. On to the exercises. Each one of these deals with character development through the writing of lists on a time limit. If you are stuck, if you have writers block, if you’re unsure of where to go with a play, do these and you will become an expert on your character. Remember, don’t think, just write. Get words on the page. Do it.

  • Get a kitchen timer, give yourself 10 minutes and in that time write a list of 20 things your character wants.
  • In 10 minutes write a list of 50 things they remember.
  • Give yourself five minutes to list everything the character knows about themselves that nobody else knows.
  • Give yourself five minutes to list everything the character knows about themselves that other people know.
  • Give yourself five minutes to list everything that other people know about the character but the character doesn’t know.
  • Then, give yourself five minutes to write a list of things you know about the character that neither the character nor anybody else knows.

About the author

Lindsay Price