Stage play scenes vs. Screenplay scenes

I am a playwright who uses Dramatica, writing for live theatre rather than the camera. I love Armando’s book and all the discussions about scene structure, but I feel that much of the talk about the number of scenes applies more to movies or novels rather than stage plays.

If I were to present to a producing theatre a play that contained 64 or even 40 separate scenes, the production team would faint dead away. My latest play, for example, had 17 scenes in total, and that was enough to label the script “episodic.” Keep in mind that many plays are set in a single location…

While I believe I got most of my storyform points into my latest script, is there a better way, given my medium, for me to think about the “scene” designation for future projects?

I would have to say that this depends on how you are thinking of scene, which has different definitions depending on who you ask. (I’m going off my recollection of Shakespeare from high school for what I think you might mean by scene.)

If I were to write a stage play, I’d probably view each of the 64 or 40 scenes you reference in your post as points of contention to be covered instead of as an actual stage scene. I say this because I’m fairly certain that the Scene in Dramatica is not the same as a traditional scene in any number of formats. In fact, I don’t think either of those collections of points are actually a collection of Dramatica Scenes, but I could be wrong.

Instead of looking at it that way, though, you could try using the Signposts and Journeys, which would limit your scenes to 12 (if you focus on Journeys), 16 (if you focus on Signposts), or 28 (if you use both). Then, from that use the PSR to enhance the scenes you’ve written, or add some if needed.

One thing to keep in mind is that Hamlet (20 Scenes) and Romeo & Juliet (26 Scenes) are complete stories according to Dramatica, I think. I suspect that most of Shakespeare’s plays are complete stories, actually. Though, I don’t know which ones have analyses to confirm it.

I hope that helps, as much of it is conjecture.
(I’m a novelist, not a playwright, and I still have a lot to learn in the ways of Dramatica.)


This. It’s just a matter of adjusting the resolution to fit the medium.


Wikipedia has info about A Man for All Seasons, being first a short radio play, then an hour TV film; and then reworked into a full production live Globe theater play because it was so well received, finally becoming the screenplay/film we saw in 1968 and analyzed via Dramatica a while back. There might be some clues how to think live theater scenes using Dramatica by comparing the works, or some such.

Be sure to share your realizations because I read somewhere if one writes a play and a screenplay, and if the play had been [produced/performed?] three times to an audience, one can keep the rights to the play, after selling the screenplay. So writing both ways has always interested me (as well as novels of course).

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In this post Jim talks about how to use Dramatica to come up with first 21, then 28-32 structural beats of a story:

I think for a stage play you could use the exact same process, considering that many of the beats will occur within the same scene. This happens naturally as you weave the throughlines together anyway. Plus, a story driver or other beat which takes place offstage can be communicated very quickly in a given scene – “did you hear the rebels bombed the port?” – allowing the rest of the scene to address the next beat(s).

If you average two beats per scene then using Jim’s formula you end up with 14-16 scenes.


@Prish, I’ll post more play-specific Dramatica thoughts as they come up, but I’m not sure how much help I’ll be in the copyrights area regarding screenplays. I’ve published a few plays with the rights handled through the publishing companies, but I’m a complete neophyte in the worlds of screenwriting…

When you talk about a traditional scene, it’s usually something to do with all the things that happen in a given place and time. But when you use a storyform or a plot sequence report to define your scenes, you’re now really talking about all the ways in which a problem is explored from a particular direction or perspective. Not really the same thing. For instance, we might say the destruction of the Death Star is one traditional scene. However, if you are using Dramatica Sign Posts to discuss scenes, then it would be four scenes because it has a Sign Post from all four Throughlines. At least that’s how I understand it.


Thanks, that’s helpful! That’s basically what I did in my last script, but even though it felt like a complete story (and was 90 minutes long), I wasn’t sure if I had done all the “scenes” justice. It’s nice to get some independent confirmation that I’m on the right track, especially because my next play has a unit set (single place) and each literal act (from the audience’s perspective) will be a continuous scene in real time.


Thanks @Gregolas, that’s what I was trying to say, but couldn’t put into words.

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Ha…no copyright pressure…my own pondering the merits of a performance and writing the play,too, because if it gets huge as a screenplay into movie (or gets ruined) that we might have some performance rights is tantalizing.