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Creative Writing Exercises #3: 
The 24 Hour Play



One of the problems for a writer who is easily overwhelmed: writing most things takes a lot of time. Thinking of all those hours, weeks and (gulp!) years sends a lot of creative people running back to their average lives and ho-hum jobs. This phenomenon has fostered the creation of several programs that condense this lengthy process. Three of these programs are National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the 48 Hour Films, and the subject of this exercise which happens to be my favorite, the 24 Hour Plays.

There are several different formats of the 24 Hour Plays, but here is my experience with it. Typically a charity event, the festivities kick off with a group of writers and actors. The actors audition with their skills and the items they have brought as props. The writers use a draft to choose the actors they wish to be in their not yet created plays. Based off of the actors’ special talents and their props, the writers at least have an idea or two to work off of. The writers then stay up all night to write a one-act play of around ten minutes in length.

In the morning, the actors return with a team of directors. They rehearse all day long and perform the play in front of a hopefully packed house.

This process served as one of my best all time creative writing exercises. I must admit, I only briefly touched on the props involved and I centered the play on a relationship that I had thought up earlier that day. A play about a blender just doesn’t sound that interesting to me :).

It was so cool to be locked in with five other writers, scribbling away and trying to get the words to all make sense by dawn. The 24 Hour Plays I was involved in was a major success and I received a lot of great compliments on my contribution. 

Here are two options for completing the exercise that I’ve described.

1. Find or organize a 24 Hour Plays festival in your area. 
2. Lock yourself in a space overnight and write an entire play or short story. Have someone or a group of people read or perform the work the following day.

You really do get a lot out of writing something in a short period of time. It forces you out of your comfort zone. It pushes your brain to round out every aspect of your writing in a solitary session. You are under a lot of pressure and you are able to see how well you perform in that situation.

Forcing the performance or reading of your quickly created work can give a lot of benefits as well. Once again, your comfort zone is compromised as, like it or not, someone will hear your play or story. You can get a very early opinion of how an audience responds to your voice and style. If people like it, you will gain the confidence of having written something good in such a short period of time. If they don’t, you can get near immediate feedback that will improve whatever it is you’ve created.

Make sure when you do the exercise to follow both parts: writing a complete work in a very short period of time and the performance of said work within 24 hours. You will learn a lot about yourself and your writing. You might even learn that when you sit down and express yourself creatively, things don’t turn out half bad :). 

Related Articles
Creative Writing Exercises #1: The Home Town
Free Creative Writing Prompts from the Heart, Part 1
CW Exercises #2: Relaxation

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Written by Bryan Cohen

Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on and Facebook.

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