The Basics

The Basics

A Lesson by The Expatriate

Learn simple and effective tools to make your play more believable and more suspenseful.


10 minute plays are exactly what they sound like: they are plays that only last around ten minutes. Since television and the internet are becoming more popular the theatre business has, sadly, declined a little. The demand for full length plays (also known as evening-length plays, lasting usually +80 minutes) is not what it once was. Now theaters are more willing to produce collections of several 10 minute plays all at once. 

Most 10 minute plays have a few things in common, such as:

Minimalist Setting/Properties
10 minute plays generally do not have a lot of demands when it comes to how their stage should be set, what kind of lighting there should be, they only call for a handful of props, and don't require exotic costumes. This is because no theater wants to create an enormous backdrop for something that only lasts ten minutes, they probably have ten other 10 minute plays waiting and only a little time to get everything together to perform them. 

Small Cast
For the same reasons, 10 minute plays typically will not have more than five or six characters. This is somewhat because the director doesn't want to have a lot of costume changes and a lot of actors exiting and entering within the small window of ten minutes. More importantly, there is only enough time to really get to know maybe two or three characters before the play is over.

One Scene
(This also relates to the "small cast" part) Because the stage will only be sparsely decorated, it isn't a good idea to call for any scene changes where all the characters have to exit (and drop the sense of reality and suspense), have a scene change, and have the characters reenter. The vast majority of 10 minute plays will be pure dialogue. 

Ticking Clock
A very effective tool for 10 minute plays is the concept of a 'ticking clock'. This is useful for giving an explanation as to why this play only lasts ten minutes, gives the characters a time limit-- why they have to get what they want within ten minutes "or else", and also gives the audience a reason as to why these exact ten minutes are special (what makes this moment so special that there has to be an audience?).

Point of No Return
Similar to the ticking clock, there should be a point in the play where the audience and the characters realize that they have crossed the line, and now nothing will ever be the same, for better or for worse. 

Show, Don't Tell
When writing in narrative form there is a basic lesson you learn in middle school, that you should "paint a picture with your words", basically: that you should try and use description to give your reader an image in their head. In playwriting there is a similar axiom, which is "show, don't tell". Characters should always use their actions to explain something to the audience if they can, it is more effective than just having a character say it flat out.

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Added on June 5, 2011
Last Updated on July 6, 2011
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The Expatriate
The Expatriate

Prospect, KY

I have written three 10 minute plays and three monologues. I enjoy reading fiction and plan to try writing a few stories or novellas soon. I also like reading poetry though I don't have any consistent..

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