Absence Makes the Play Grow Bigger

Every once in a while, a “big” play like Angels in America comes along, but many (if not most) of today’s playwrights, and particularly the less experienced ones who watch too much television, are writing smaller and smaller plays. Too many plays have become insular, relationship-centered affairs. To be honest, how many times can we watch a few characters going back and forth? No matter how witty the dialogue or the twists and turns of the plot, sooner or later we run into the limits of the play, and we’re bored.

That’s where the absent character comes in. Perhaps the most famous example is Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Two men wait on a road for Godot to show up.

So the next time you’re feeling a little claustrophobic during playwriting, throw in an absent character and feel your play expand.

How to Write a Play, How to Write a Screenplay
Jonathan Dorf

About Jonathan Dorf

Jonathan Dorf’s plays have been produced throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Europe and Asia. Published by Brooklyn Publishers, Eldridge, Meriwether, Playscripts and Smith & Kraus, he is the author of Young Playwrights 101, an e-book for young writers and those who teach them. He created Final Draft’s “Ask the Expert” playwriting and is the resident playwriting expert for The Writers Store, for whom he teaches “Introduction to Playwriting” as part of Writers University. Co-Chair of the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights, he holds a BA in Dramatic Writing and Literature from Harvard University and an MFA in Playwriting from UCLA. He is available to playwrights and screenwriters of all ages as a script consultant. Visit him on the web at www.jondorf.com or email him at jonathan_dorf_ab93@post.harvard.edu.