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Part I: Prewriting
Don’t Rush to the Page or: The Importance of Prewriting

By Dale Griffiths Stamos

October 2009

Authorlink welcomes award-winning playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos as a regular monthly columnist.

"Prewriting constitutes everything you do before you start
to “actually” write. . ."


As promised in my introduction last month, I will be doing these columns in a systemic and sequential fashion starting with the elements of Prewriting.  Prewriting constitutes everything you do before you start to “actually” write your play.  When I say actually, I mean the act of putting dialogue on a page in playwriting format.  Many inexperienced playwrights begin right off with trying to write the play itself, not realizing that, like the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the written play is just what lies above a deep, unseen level of the play that keeps the visible play afloat.

Prewriting is a process of inspiration, exploration, story structuring, and character formation.  It is an interplay between your right and left brain, a dance of questions you ask yourself and different paths you try out and discard until the story emerges in a strong and viable form.  To indulge in yet another metaphor, prewriting is where you allow your play to gestate before being birthed onto the page.  Once on that page, it will “grow” through various drafts.  But the prewriting stage is every bit as important, or perhaps even more important than any of those drafts.  Because it is there the play will take on its DNA, the core elements of story that will guide you through the demanding process ahead.  Without those elements, when you encounter roadblocks along your drafting path, (and you will), randomness is likely to take over, or confusion, or the urge to just throw everything out and start over again.

"if you have done your prewriting properly, the driving forces of character and story will hold firm ."

But if you have done your prewriting properly, the driving forces of character and story will hold firm through any challenge.

When I prewrite, I start with a notebook that is specifically designated for this stage.  I ponder aspects of my play in an open-ended, unedited process I call filling the pages. I ask myself all sorts of “what if” questions, and allow whatever answers that come to flow onto the page.  I write character bios and monologues and scraps of dialogue if I hear them.  These are “musings” no one else but I will see, so I am free to explore in any direction I want.  If I hit dead ends, no problem, I go off in another direction and see where that takes me.  This is the place to do that.   Better here than in draft #3!  There are two advantages to working with a notebook like this.  First, by not just thinking about, but writing out my exploratory thoughts it allows my writer self to be engaged, and thus calm the impatience to get to the play itself.   Second, there is a strange phenomenon that happens on the page that all working writers know.  Writing begets writing.  In other words, just the act of putting something down in words seems to trigger more words  – and thus more ideas, possibilities, and insights.

"Filling the notebook is. . . one of the ways to open the floodgates
to inspiration. . ."


Filling the notebook is, in other words, one of the ways to open the floodgates to inspiration, to invite in the thoughts below the thoughts – the ones  you didn’t even know you were thinking.

About the Author Dale Griffiths Stamos is an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced and published in the United States and abroad.  She has been on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and will be teaching a “Finding Your Story” workshop at Cal Arts in the fall.  For more information, go to