Posted in text

How to write a dramatic text

Theatrical text has very distinctive features as it is not a valid text by itself, unlike poetry and novel. It is thought and written as a text for theatrical performance, regardless of it being effectively represented or not. The author vanishes completely, giving up his own voice in favor of its characters, which will be played by actors dressed up in costumes, in a set with lighting, background music, special effects, etc. (following directions as imagined by the author). These aspects are not always considered in dramatic analysis, which many times is constricted to a literary analysis, of the text, without considering other factors that, despite not being strictly literary, are implicit (sometimes explicit) in the text.

The following steps should be followed when performing an analysis of dramatic text:

A.- External structure.

B.- Internal structure.

Stage directions


Theatrical conventions




C.- Literary language



It consists in separating the textual elements (the words spoken on stage) from the non-textual (these are called stage directions). The stage directions are usually written (between parentheses in italics). It is not always like that. Lights of Bohemia has the stage directions in separate paragraphs, in italics; this play’s stage directions are the most peculiar of them all.

The stage description is usually done at the beginning of each play, frame, act or scene, depending on it changes constantly or remains the same. A special font is not generally used though many editions of dramatic works use italics. Because the text shows before the beginning of dialogue, recognizing it is not problematic.


More than an internal structure it is about analyzing those elements that are formally relevant in a dramatic text. They are as follows.


Their objective is to guide the staging of the play. Because of this they should be objective, pointing out the essential elements for the development of the scene. Sometimes, playwrights are so concerned that they almost become stage designers. The precision and attention to detail of some of them (Buero Vallejo, Mihura) contrast with the easiness of others (Lorca, Benavente). At this point the varying level of consideration of stage elements between playwrights can be noticed. Nevertheless, this objectivity is achieved in many stage directions in their respective works.

But it is also very true that the goal and character in many of them is surpassed.  They become literary stage directions in which not only those stage notes are present but others, typical of any literary text, are added. Frequently in these situations some of them are forgotten for the benefit of others and vice versa. We should assign stage value to these stage directions based on the possibility or not of representing them. And, immediately afterwards, pointing out their literary values for which applying the characteristics of literary language would be necessary, especially those belonging to narrative description (To see, click here). This approach can be applied to Lights of Bohemia. Its stage directions not only have stage value (usually forgotten) but an undisputable literary value; they go both ways: on one hand they are examples of the finest modern descriptive prose; on the other, they open a new way of expression for grotesque. This would mean, perhaps, the possibility of walking that double way from a scenical point of view.

Between both ends there are stage directions that express subjectivity or at least a certain point of view of the playwright. Some stage directions in Three Top Hats catch the humorous, absurd, and childish character of the play. “El sueño de la razón” shows stage directions that include lexical or grammatical archaisms that would be typical of dialogue.