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Writing For The Stage and Screen: The Creative Approach Writing For The Stage and Screen: The Creative Approach
by Shola Balogun
2020-06-27 07:50:23
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In “Writing For The Stage and Screen: The Creative Approach”, we intend to present a practical how-to guide with personal knowledge acquired from the theatre and in video production business to eliminate potential mistakes as a writer in the craft of providing a comprehensive script for stage plays and films.

The “Artistic Dismerit”

Many teachers have not really put into practice what they teach. They simply teach only what they read. And such “artistic dismerit”, as I would like to call it, has led to many ‘stage plays’ and ‘film scripts’ which do not have any practical attribute. They simply do not fit into the genre of stage or screen. Writing, either for the stage or screen, is a profession that is expanding commercially. A poorly written script, more than anything, from a commercial and artistic point of assessment, is anti- art. You need more than theories if you want to write for the stage and screen for money.

Telling Story Beautifully

thear001_400One thing to always consider as you write, either for the stage or screen, is that you are writing to communicate, entertain, and engage the audience or readers who can be easily bored and distracted. While writing a script for the stage and screen, it is especially important to avoid clichés. In short, over-used list of common phrases can easily generate boredom and irritation. Search for other alternative words and meanings in reference books. There are several other things clamoring for the attention of the target producer, and a writer must use suspense and memorable dialogue to lead them through the story. You can come up with inviting title that is able to call attention to your work by brainstorming and asking others in conversation for their opinions. When faced with the challenges of coming up with a title that sells, the best method is to make a list of ideas- objects of significance, conflict, theme and characters- that reflects the ‘hidden meaning’ of the work.

You must familiarise yourself with the formats specific to each genre. More importantly you will need to make your scripts come alive using clear sentences to create brief descriptions of the time, space, and actions in the story. True life conversation between parties is dialogue in the theatre and fiction film. As a writer, paying attention to the natural way people speak in conversation, how they choose their words and how they act reflexively, can help you to come up with dramatic characters that are real to your audience.

Understanding the Stage and Screen Narratives

Scripts for the stage (theatre plays) and screen (film productions) are different slightly in techniques and expressions. These techniques and expressions are two sides of the same coin- to tell a story that is relevant or possible within the involved medium and finance. The artists of the stage tell a story without camera directions and detailed shots of each frame in the script. They write in acts and scenes to position the cast for the audience as in a live performance. It is necessary to emphasize that theatre plays with the actions, reactions and movements of the cast are stipulated to be put on stage before the audience. And the keyword is ‘live performance on stage’. A stage is a limited and confined space within a theatre (Greek: theatron)- a building where dramatic performances (theastai) take place. A stage can be a raised platform or cleared ground. In writing for the stage, the scriptwriter needs to consider the limits to what the geography of the stage can admit. For instance, look at this stage play script convention:


At the back yard of a derelict mud house, OLAPEGBA, sitting next to AKANGBE on a wooden bench, looks over the place in panic. Sounds produced by gongs rise in the air among the trees.

OLAPEGBA: (Speaks quietly to AKANGBE) It is very difficult to believe there is still a place like this in this century. Everything is far removed from modern world. I am sure this is not your home town. What do they call this village?

AKANGBE: They call this village, “The Village of the Powerful Witches.” People come from far and near to consult the witches in this village for help. The only thing they do is voodoo, sir.
I was informed that there is solution to any problem here. As I also eat from your table, that is why I decided to bring you to this village. I was told that the only power that cannot be contested by these witches is the power of God. But big men hardly seek God.

(A man in black regalia appears at the door).

MAN IN BLACK REGALIA: (Spitefully in a tone of arrogance, with a gesture of the hand) Arákùnrin, Ìwọ l’ó kàn. Wọ́n ní kí o máa fi ẹ̀yìn rẹ wọlé bọ̀. Lẹ́sẹ̀kẹsẹ̀ tí o bá dé àjọ ọ wọn, kí o sọ ùnkan tí ó gbé ọ dé bí.

AKANGBE: (Interprets to OLAPEGBA) He said, “It is your turn. They are asking you to come in using your back. Tell them what brought you here immediately you come into their presence.”

(OLAPEGBA stands up and makes his way towards the door. Light fades).

It is the format, regardless of its engaging storyline, that constitutes the genre a creative writing fits in. It is not about genre labels. It is about script format. The following example, unless it is narrated as an event that happens offstage and it is reported by a character, has certainly thrown in some things that cannot work incredibly well on stage.


On the road between Teppo and Zaga, Dr. Kurima’s car swerves speedily to the other side of the road, hits the embankment and somersaults. Two fuel tankers follow suit as flames engulf the surrounding area.

We do not need to hit hard on it that writing a description as given in this example in a stage play is unprofessional. Many producers may not take the pain to read further into the script. They will simply toss it aside – and there it goes into a trash bin. Truly you may have good and promising smash hit stories, but handling or pitching them in a way that shows you are an amateur in the creative art industry can close many doors of opportunities that could have been easily grabbed.

The above example is out of the distinctive constitution or genre of stage play script narrative, but it is absolutely logical in a script that is written for the camera with the possibilities of the post-production animation, juxtaposition of footages and editing to be persuasive.

In writing for the stage and screen, though scenes, locations, characters, actions, dialogues and narrations are identified in both pages, the screen format further includes a treatment- the outline that visualizes the story as a content for video or film and furnishes a producer the idea for the budget, equipment for the shooting and numbers of people that would be required on location. The treatment in a well-crafted script for the screen gives you an idea of how the eventual product of the work should turn out through its description of shots and views. The following example shows how you could write a script for the screen:


BERNARD, visibly puzzled and worried, shifts in his seat. IYIWOLA paces the room, stoically considering Bernard’s subject. There is a long moment of silence.

I am not telling you old women fable, Iyiwola Salvador.
I was stupefied. My head swelled up and I melted.
The foul creepy being stood over me, rammed his fist on the desk,
and threw my books across the room.
That is a kind of evil spirit on rampage…agent of wickedness,
wandering demons…magnet of wickedness, ministering satanic spirit…

(Cuts in)
This is damn nonsense, pardon my language.
You know this makes no damn sense, Bernard Cole.
We are PhD students on credible scientific research.
Claiming that there are demons and wicked spirit is
as absurd as claiming that everything in the universe did not
come about as a result of evolution.

Don’t you believe the experts could not come up with
an explanation for demonic spirits?

Are there Demons or Evil spirits?
This makes no damn sense. It is unscientific and illogical.
I could remember you are a member of your church choir.
You can see where you are killing it.
Listen to yourself. That is hallucination.

You seriously think it is hallucination to always
experience these same unexplainable weird visitations
and onslaught of eerie noises at nights prior to the defense
of our research papers that always lead to rejection?
The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.

In the framework of contemporary history and world events,
That quote has it right with the utmost precision.
I do not know what this has to do with us though.
I have been to many countries of the world and I have been
reading about things like this but I seriously think they are all fiction.

(Struggles to understand)
Something is wrong.

You know this makes no damn sense.
As my grandmother would say,
”You are here drawing conclusions
when others are drawing soup with meat.”


The curtains… take on a CREEPY SHAPE OF A STATUE. The door opens-the lights go on.

…What is that?

The CREEPY SHAPE OF A STATUE vanishes. IYIWOLA walks in, looking round the room.
He does not understand what just happened.

Writing As a Lucrative Profession

Writing for the stage and screen is a profession- a marketable product- with its own intricacies and prospects. So the marketing aspects must not be left out. Let us be practical now. For any product to be lucrative, awareness needs to be created, the potential buyers must be aware, and you can create the awareness by showcasing excerpts of your work for the stage and screen in competitions, organising or attending public reading to present your products. As a writer you are creating an art work. Let people know you are in it for a living. Let people know you are gifted in the field. Market yourself as a writer. Write beautiful, well-crafted letters of introduction and attach the manuscripts of your work. Writing for the stage and screen is still lucrative. Introduce yourself. Marketing is marketing for any product. Write the scripts that the other person will be ‘tempted’ or excited to finance.


Knowing how one could tell a story through the camera is an art. A well-written screenwriting is one which is able to create and emphasise the significant moments of a story in a cinematic context. In techniques and expressions those who write or tell stories for the camera use the language of the craft, that is, that of photographed images- close-up, cut, fade-out/ fade-in, dissolve, camera tracks, long shots, etc- to indicate a shift in the period or passage in the story.


*I presented this paper as part of the monthly writing training organised by Writers Tribe, a group on WhatsApp, on the 31 of May, 2020. I thank the administrators- Efosa Taiwo, Folat, and all the members.

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