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Recently, I received this question from a PSH member:


“I’d love for you to address STAGE DIRECTIONS. I also direct and I typically write a lot of stage directions in first few drafts, then edit them down to what I hope are just those that are necessary for the storytelling.”

“Nevertheless, I fear I still have too many stage directions. Is there any guidance you can give?”


This is a great question, and a hard one, since the answer is bound to be subjective.

I also want to approach this question not just from the perspective of writing plays, but also that of submitting plays–because I think the answer can vary.

Here’s what I mean:

Modern plays tend to keep stage directions to a minimum. The reason behind this, I believe, is to allow the other artists in the theatrical process the freedom to do their job.

For instance, telling an actor to deliver a line “Angrily” is really stepping on the actor’s toes. Unless it’s absolutely imperative that this line be delivered angrily, it’s better to let the actor deliver this line in the most truthful way possible. Perhaps the character is angry, but the line comes out sounding inauthentically sweet instead–which can make the moment much more interesting.

Or perhaps your stage directions describe the setting in much more detail than is really necessary, in which case, you’re stepping on the set designer’s toes. A great set designer can probably create a much more interesting set than the one you describe.

Another way of saying this is that by only including the most essential stage directions and set details, you’re allowing for greater flexibility and versatility in your play.

From this perspective, I do recommend keeping stage directions to a minimum.

But there’s one other consideration that I would personally keep in mind, which is this:

Remember that when you submit your play to a theater or contest for consideration, your work is going to be judged based on how well it READS.

Yes, a play is written to be performed, but before it’s ever performed, it has to be read.

To that end, your play has to make sense and deliver a cohesive and compelling dramatic arc for the reader before it can reach an audience of viewers.

So when you’re submitting your play to theaters, I would try to look at stage directions through that lens and consider keeping any stage directions that might help the reader to better visualize your story. Some of those stage directions might not be absolutely necessary, but that’s OK. If they help the reader to appreciate your play’s potential, then they’re serving an important purpose.

Keep this in mind when looking through your stage directions.