How Long Does It Take To Write a Play?

Playwrights have been tasked with finding new ways to captivate audiences for centuries. They put a lot of energy and creativity into writing plays, but how long does it take them?

It can take a few hours to several months to write a play. This variation can be due to the type of play it is, the required length of the script, editing, and revisions, or the playwright’s preference. 

Let’s dive into the world of theatre and what goes into writing a play.

Types of Plays

Theatre is such a vast art form. 

There are so many types of plays, genres, and movements that it would take ages to list them all. However, we can separate theatre plays into a few main categories based on their run time, including one-act plays, full-length plays, musicals, ten-minute plays, and sketches.

Let’s take a look at each of these categories in more detail:

  • One-act plays are relatively short and typically run for around half an hour to an hour.
  • Full-length plays are some of the longest and are sometimes referred to as “evening plays,” which can take anywhere from an hour to four hours to complete.
  • Musicals are of the same caliber as full-length plays in terms of run time.
  • Ten-minute plays are complete plays condensed into ten minutes with a ten-page script. 
  • A sketch is similar to a ten-minute play in expected run time, but it’s not a complete story and can vary in time quite substantially, depending on the script. 

If you’re curious about the more specific kinds of plays that exist and different movements within theatre, details types of theatre, when they were developed, and what they were designed for. 

The Amount Of Time It Takes To Write a Play

The time it takes to write a play hinges on the type of play it is and the progress of the individual playwright

Writing a play takes research, revisions, and above all, having and expanding on a creative idea, which requires hard and consistent work on the part of a playwright. The entire process can take anywhere from a day to a year.

A one-act play can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to write, depending on the subject matter and how experienced and consistent the playwright is. Although all plays have an expected period they take to write, this becomes extended if the playwright is not consistent or has to make multiple revisions. 

A one-act play can be written in 4 hours or take a week, while a full-length play can take anywhere from two weeks to six months. 

Playwrights also occasionally suffer from the bane of every writer’s existence, otherwise known as writer’s block. This is a dry spell that creatives know all too well. As you can imagine, running out of inspiration and motivation is a severe hindrance to the progress of a play. 

How Long It Takes To Edit a Script

Typically, a playwright edits their script, but they may hire a script editor to help them make changes. Script editors go through plays, and depending on the level of service you require from them and pay for, they perform varying degrees of edits

You might hire an editor to read through your script line to line and make alterations, cut unnecessary dialogue, and suggestions on stage directions, to name a few. 

The length of a script and the number and depth of changes that need to be made determines how long this process will take. Altering a play script can take as long as the play took to write if it’s a one-act play. 

In contrast, revisions for a full-length play should not take longer than a few weeks, such as the time it takes actors to practice the performance. 

The more parties are involved and the bigger the production, the more chances of things needing to be moved around or changed. For example, a ten-minute play requires fewer edits than a full-scale stage musical production. 

Playwrights mustn’t get too attached to the first draft of their script. Being proud of your work is incredible and necessary for a successful outcome. Still, you need to be able to look at your work with a critical eye. 

If you struggle to make these significant changes for yourself, there are editing services that can help you make the hard cuts. 

Potential Edits Needed in a Script

Several things might need to happen to make the script more concise when editing a script. 

Playwrights need to cut unnecessary dialogue and scenes, alter stage directions for continuity and flow, and even cut entire characters from the script. These changes are all made to make a story as engaging and memorable as possible.

These are the edits that might be made to a script before or during the practice stage:

  • Cutting or altering dialogue is sometimes necessary when content doesn’t contribute to the overall story. This can also be necessary when scripts don’t follow the “show don’t tell” rule. 
  • Stage directions might need to be altered, which generally happens during the practice stage of production. Actors and directors may find specific directions don’t work well and need to be changed or removed entirely.
  • The length of the overall script can mean the difference between a bored audience or a satisfied audience. Therefore, a script that is too long needs to be edited to make it more concise or visually based, rather than relying on lengthy dialogue. The script will sometimes need to be rearranged for a better flow and more natural story progression. 
  • Cutting characters is something no artist wants to do. Still, if the script runs way over the limit and a character doesn’t contribute much, they can be removed from the script. 

Then, of course, playwrights and editors need to ensure that their plays are perfect in terms of grammar and spelling, and they must double-check that the script’s format is correct for a play. This will help everyone involved, including the actors, contribute to a seamless performance when showtime comes. 

Combing through a script for the sake of language and formatting is an underrated but absolutely essential part of the editing process. Little things like clumsy dialogue here and there can make or break a performance. 

Typically, scripts will be developed by the theatre company that is proposing to stage a production. This is one of the main contributing factors to the length of time that it takes to write a play.

For instance, you may write a first draft in one month, but a theatre company may want to develop the play over a period of months before they put the play on.

This process can involve ‘reads’ with actors, accompanied by rounds of feedback. A read is when the play is read out loud by actors, usually while sitting around a table. Playwrights may be expected to rewrite taking the notes into account after each read.

Plays might even be walked through on stage, and experimented with during the rehearsal process, and the playwright may be asked to make changes during that process too.

A play stops being written and rewritten once the curtain goes up on opening night. But sometimes rewrites are required after that!

Final Thoughts

Although the time it takes to write a play can vary quite dramatically, the most important thing to be sure of is that your script is thoroughly edited, and you’ve cut out any unnecessary elements that don’t add to the performance.

Ultimately, a script must optimize entertainment value to hold the audience’s attention. A playwright needs to focus on doing whatever helps bring that about.