Grossmont College

English 160:  Drama Writing

Instructor:  Karl Sherlock


Download a PDF of the Worksheet HERE.


Plays, Acts and Scenes in Structure


Point of Attack:

Typically, the play's implied back-story permits the action of the play to begin already in progress and shortly before the conflict.   (Naturally, there is some flexibility as to when that point in time can begin.)  But, writers should be aware of the inherent timeline of their plays so that the story structure and pacing can be more closely monitored.



In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, the salient act of the play's history is not the moment that King Leontes turns suspicious of his wife Queen Hermione and his childhood friend King Polixenes, but rather the moment that Polixenes arrives on the shores of Sicilia.  This scene is not contained in the play, but it is implied that the arrival of Polixenes sets into motion a reverie for lost youth that transforms into Leontes's bitterness toward the burden of kingly responsibility, that then becomes an hostility toward the people who most remind him of that.  Shakespeare uses the characters of Camillo and Archidamus-minor characters, to be sure-in order to relay just the necessary details to imply the back-story and set the drama in motion at a proper "point of attack":  a foot extended into the path of the running drama to slow its progress so that the audience may consider it.



Dramatic Structure











literature scripted specifically for its performance; the combined dynamics of dialogue, drama, and impersonation


an episode within the larger structure of the play, defined by rising action, climax and resolve


a change in the grouping of characters within the larger structure of an act





a story or activity with an underlying agenda or trope that communicates itself best through dramatic rendering


a movement in the play's argument or thematic


a movement from one plot point to another




the confinement of a dramatic tale or activity to the unities of time and location


a notable change in locale or time which facilitates a separate episode


a slight change of locale or movement in time within an Act; the use of the same locale, but with different characters




the culmination of direction, casting and production as a means to interpreting  dialogue, drama, and impersonation


upon completion, curtain goes down, house lights come up; scenery and props are changed


often described by the playwright, and defined by the props that are present; can also be characterized by additions and deletions of scene backdrops





'I wrote all the time. Everywhere. When I wasn't writing, I was thinking about it or continuing to 'write' in my head. . . . I wasn't very good company. At that time, a major critic commented that I wrote 'disposable plays,' and in some sense he was probably right. But nothing mattered to me then except to get the stuff down on paper. . . . There was never a sense, in all this, of evolving a style or moving on to a bigger, longer, 'more important' form. Each play had a distinct life of its own and seemed totally self-contained within its one-act structure.' -- Sam Shepard



In the most general sense, a one-act play is a shorter drama which takes place in one setting and in which dialogue between a minimum of characters creates the drama of the situation.




1.  Using the Character Dimensions Worksheet, outline the traits and roles of three characters.


2.  Describe when and where the play takes place and how the stage is set. Be specific.


3.  What is the main problem or mistake faced by the characters in the play? What is at stake for them and what must they undertake in order to solve this problem?


4.  What complications get in the way of solving the main problem?


5.  How do the characters resolve the problem, thereby ending the play?


6.  What should the characters have learned (regardless of whether they actually do learn) by solving this problem?





*In a one-act play, the playwright has license to introduce whatever number of points of dramatic tension found to be prudent; these points of dramatic tension usually are considered to evoke their own scenes, regardless of whether or not the playwright has chosen to use actual scene breaks.

© 2005 Karl J. Sherlock