Getting Your Exercise

Generally speaking, the more I write, the better I write. Why? Because writing, just like playing a sport, requires certain muscles, and the more you exercise them, the better you get. So in the spirit of improving your writing fitness, here are exercises that, unlike with pro wrestling, you can try at home.

This is one of my favorites, because it forces you to write a complete play in about a page and at the same time be both precise and creative with what you include in it. It also works particularly well in writing classes of all ages. Select three categories – for example, an object, a non-geographic location and a type of weather. For each category, have one person in the group (or yourself, but it’s always great if someone else can do the picking for you) select something specific: a toothbrush, a street corner, a heat wave. It’s now up to you (and everyone) to write a one-minute play that includes these same three elements. Not only do you have to write a play with a beginning, middle and an end, but connecting these often disparate items is a fun challenge. And I’ll bet that if you try it with a group of writers, you’ll be amazed at what different plays you’ll all write.

You can use the Three Elements with monologues as well, or modify the number of elements as needed (though I think three works quite well).

At a certain point, we tend to develop our own styles of writing. For me, I tend to do a certain amount of one character becoming another (not doubling, but more a sort of expressionism). But sometimes, we either want or need to switch styles, or maybe we just want to try something new. So try this out:

Write a short, basic scene, either in your typical style or in “neutral” (for our purposes, neutral means that you write the scene as simply and unembellished as possible). Next, rewrite that scene in the style you’d like to try. You might try to imitate a great writer (for example, Beckett) or come up with your own riff. For example, how would you turn your neutral scene into a farce, conveying the same information but in a completely different way? Try a few different styles, and feel those muscles stretch. Even though you’re not going to change your style completely, trying new styles is a great way to inform your writing.

Have a good workout!

How to Write a Play, How to Write a Screenplay, Writing Routine and Outlook
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 or email him at