Writing quote

Sure, it's simple writing for kids...Just as simple as raising them.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


   I've been hard at work on the outline for my middle-grade novel—12 chapters and counting! I think it will be around 15 chapters or so. It's a great accomplishment for me to have gone this far on a longer work as I usually get distracted or stalled around chapter 5 or 6 and move on to other projects, which is partly the reason I've been mostly a picture book writer. However, this story has been aching to be told for about   a year now, so it's time I buckle down and write it. 
   What this has meant is that I'm quite tardy on announcing the winners of the Redwood Writers' play writing contest, of which I was one of the judges. The judges (Lennie Dean, Michael Fontaine, Linda Loveland Reid, and yours truly) met last Tuesday, April 3, to discuss our selections. Interesting process. I think every writer should be on a judging panel for some contest at one point or another. 
   a) You really get a feel for how different reading tastes and opinions can be. Plays that struck a chord with me didn't necessarily strike a chord with my fellow judges and vice versa.
   b) It gives you an insight to what it's like to be on the editor's or agent's side of the desk, combing through the myriad of submissions to find the ones that match your "list". In our case, what would make good theatre.
   c) It's a great exercise in negotiation and compromise. There were plays that we all liked and thought should be produced. There were a few that we didn't really agree on, but we discussed the merits and flaws of each play, and made the final decision based on how well it fit into our general judging criteria (more on that in a bit). And yes, we were all very mature about it, and left with limbs intact.
   So without further ado, the winners of the 2nd annual Redwood Writer's Playwriting contest are...drumroll please...

Malena Eljumaily                           Special Delivery
Nancy Lockard Gallop                  There There, Now
Gene Griffith                                 Gravediggers
Teresa LeYung-Ryan                    Answer Me Now
Elaine Maikovska                          The Play Is the Thang
Amanda McTigue                          Turn The Other
Harry Reid                                    GPS
Elizabeth VanPatten                       Dream Girl
Jean Wong                                    BFF
CONGRATULATIONS to all the playwrights! You will truly enjoy the thrill of working with a director and seeing your story come to life on stage. Theatre is a collaborative effort, so make sure you attend rehearsals if you can. Dialogue can sound very different spoken out loud than when read on paper, or even hearing it in your head. I've tweaked lines during production because they sounded awkward when spoken on stage or didn't quite ring true for that character.
   Now for the judging criteria: in selecting the winning plays, the judges looked at plot, characters, dialogue, and overall balance of program for the entire evening. This meant we tried to include plays with varying themes, lengths, and styles.   
   For those of you whose plays were not selected this year, please submit again next year, or submit your play elsewhere (read on for resources for play submissions). 
   Helpful tips to remember:
1) Ten-minute plays are NOT skits. They have a beginning, middle, and end, and character arcs.
2) Theatre is a visual medium. Something should be happening on stage. Two people merely having a conversation around the dining table is less interesting than situations where something is happening to your characters. Move them around. Give them something to do.
3) Dialogue should move the plot forward. You have only ten minutes (in this format) to tell your story. Don't focus on small, idle chit-chat leading up to the main event. Begin "in media res"—in the middle of the action.
4) Ten-minute plays are usually produced as part of a festival or evening line-up of short plays. There is no time for set or scene changes within a play. Between plays, you might have an average of one and a half minutes to change sets for the next play. Budgets are low for such productions, so plays with too many props, even if they have spectacular dialogue and an intriguing plot often don't get selected. When you're writing ten-minute plays, keep the sets simple.
5) Character arc. Yes, there's not much time for character development, but good ten-minute plays still have character arcs. Characters learn something different about another character or themselves. They make different decisions at the end of the play than they would have at the beginning. There is a change that happens.
   For other tips on writing the ten minute play, click here to check out the links I had included in an earlier post about writing the ten-minute play. 
   And if you're looking to submit a play elsewhere, here are some venues worth checking out:

The Tapas Short Plays Festival—deadline May 1st, Guerneville. No submission fee.
The Estro Genius Festival—celebrating women's voices in theatre, for women playwrights or plays by men with strong female themes and characters—deadline June 1, New York. Submission fee: $10
FireRose Productions—deadline March 31 every year, Los Angeles. Submission fee: $5
Mendocino College New Plays Festival—deadline Feb. 14 every year, Ukiah. Submissions should be sent to Jody Gehrman, jgehrman@mendocino.edu. No submission fee.
The Burryman Writers Center—a fantastic resource for places to send your writing to, not just for plays. It has a good list of play festivals.
Short+Sweet Festival—this is the largest ten-minute theatre festival in the world with venues in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Australia; India; Singapore; Malaysia; New Zealand. Submission fee: $18 AUS, but your play will be considered for all 10 of their festivals. They accept submissions all year round. Note: they do get about 2000 submissions a year. 2 of my plays didn't make it in earlier years, but the 3rd time was a charm for me: my play "Playing with Knives" was produced at the Newtown Theatre in Sydney, Australia.


  1. Natasha-
    Thanks for another great post about 10 minute plays. It was your initial blog on the subject that inspired me to write and submit my play and wonder of wonders, it won.
    Thanks also for your insight into the judging process.
    Good luck with the middle-grade novel and all your other projects.
    Cheers, Malena

  2. Hi Malena,

    I really liked your play. I'm looking forward to giving you your award on Sunday. See you then!