One way to help make your play a success is to write it in an “actor-friendly” way.

In other words, to write your script in a way that makes it easier for your actors to do their job well.

To that end, there’s one big mistake that many playwrights–especially novices–tend to make, and that’s writing too many unnecessary stage directions in their play.

Years ago, it was common for playwrights to include a massive amount of stage directions. Read anything by Eugene O’Neill to see this for yourself.

But these days, it’s out of style to include stage directions that aren’t essential. And that includes both actions (like “Jim walks to the other side of the room”) and notes on how to deliver each line (“Screaming at the top of his lungs”).

Here’s why this is important:

Playwriting is a collaborative art form. As the playwright, you create the characters and the story. You create the skeleton for the production.

But the other artists that collaborate with you–including actors–are the people who add the flesh to that skeleton.

By trying to tell an actor how to deliver a line, for instance, you’re actually stepping on that actor’s toes. How they deliver the line is their job, their decision–not yours.

And it should be that way!

After all, the actor is the person onstage. They’re the one living through this experience. They’re the one who has worked to inhabit this character. And that means they’re in the best position to understand how the character is feeling in that moment and, by extension, how they would deliver that line.

It may or may not be the way you envision it when you wrote the scene. But it’s more likely to be the emotionally honest choice.

Now, does that mean you should give up all hopes of knowing how your characters will respond in any given situation? No! It just means that you shouldn’t try to micromanage your actors.

But what you can, and should do, is to write a scene with clear emotional beats. This will make it obvious to your actors exactly what’s happening in that moment and how their character is liable to feel about it.

And keep in mind, there ARE still some situation in which it’s appropriate to include stage directions. Namely, anytime there’s a situation where the stage direction is necessary for the actor to understand the scene or the line.

For instance, if Jamie stabs Mark with a kitchen knife, well…obviously you need to include that in the stage directions.

And if Allison cuts the phone cord so that nobody can call 911, that needs a stage direction too.

But if you envision Jason pacing back and forth while pulling at his hair…well, leave that stage direction out. Instead, make it clear from Jason’s lines that he’s feeling stressed, afraid, anxious, and overwhelmed. Then let the actor decide how to portray those feeling.

I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorite stage directions, which comes from Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf:




It’s a hilarious bit of stage direction, and it’s absolutely essential, as it ensures that the actor doesn’t ruin the joke by delivering the line in a soft, serious tone of voice.

I hope this has been helpful! Take this chance to read through your play and remove all your non-essential stage directions.