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« Elsewhere | Main | Holiday Gifts 1 »

November 25, 2005

How to Write Plays

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

The web is the resource that just keeps giving. Here's a very well-done how-to-write-plays site that breaks the subject into easily-digestible chunks: subtext, suspense plot, content, characterization, etc. Put together by Richard Toscan, dean of Virginia Commonwealth University, it's a first-class -- ie., accessible but sophisticated -- intro to dramatic writing, as helpful as anything I've read between covers. And it's all yours, and all for free. Many thanks to Richard Toscan for his good and generous work.

I wrote here about my enthusiasm for the storytelling end of the fiction thang, and recommended a couple of how-to-create-a-story books.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at November 25, 2005




Comments

As I went through Mr. Toscan's site reading his guidance for absolute beginners, I (being perversely fond of comedy) noted that a lot of modern television and film comedy functions by more or less mechanically reversing many (all?)of Mr. Toscan's rules. Does this mean that comedy and drama are sort of literal inversions of each other? Or that comedy is sort of a perverse reaction to the essentially artificial constraints of drama? Hmm, I've got to think about this.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 26, 2005 12:19 AM



FVB, I seem to recall from the dusty recesses of my memory of college seminars that comedy and tragedy have inverse plot structures in classical Greek drama--the whole rising action vs descending action thing. Perhaps, by some weird coincidence, TV writers and producers are following the same patterns....

Posted by: Deb on November 26, 2005 8:13 AM



I wonder if there's a "how to write comedies" site on the web that's as good as Toscan's site is ... The world could use one!

And I note that Toscan's upfront about the fact that his advice is for writing the kinds of plays that work in American regional theater today: Tina Howe-ish, Richard Greenberg-ish things. Stuff in the Chekhovian tradition, that's more about the space between the story points than about the story itself. He's pretty explicit about drawing a line between the kind of thing he's discussing and, say, screenplay writing. I wonder how different the advice would be if he were coaching us in how to write a traditional, pre-modernist play ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 26, 2005 11:40 AM



Actually, I wasn't thinking so much of plot, as in the relationships between text and subtext. In drama, apparently, one is supposed to write the text but keep the subtext in mind; whereas in comedy, particularly contemporary comedy, much of the humor comes from unnaturally uninhibited characters speaking the subtext directly.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 26, 2005 12:04 PM



Many want to write. But how many have anything to say? Not many. So that eliminates most would be writers right off the bat. School or no school. And the very few who do have something to say get to where they can say it arrestingly (maybe), as writers, only by writing and writing and writing and...Again, school, or a course, won't get you there. Only doing it over and over and over again...may.

Posted by: ricpic on November 26, 2005 2:55 PM



Friedrich – re: As I went through Mr. Toscan's site reading his guidance for absolute beginners, I (being perversely fond of comedy) noted that a lot of modern television and film comedy functions by more or less mechanically reversing many (all?)of Mr. Toscan's rules. Does this mean that comedy and drama are sort of literal inversions of each other? Or that comedy is sort of a perverse reaction to the essentially artificial constraints of drama? Hmm, I've got to think about this.

This brings to mind the deeply influential and humane Northrop Frye and his “Anatomy of Criticism.” He asserted that tragedy is concerned with the hero's separation from society while comedy is concerned with integration of society. So, for example, after antic action, misunderstanding and tears, a romantic comedy ends up with the happy couple and everyone who opposed them reconciled and pointed towards “happily ever after.” A Three Stooges short always ends with the Stooges together, harmlessly but eternally bickering and fighting each other; and a typical episode of “I Love Lucy” ends with Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel together, often with Ricky exasperated but ultimately forgiving Lucy, ‘cause, after all, she’s Lucy and the love of his life. Hamlet, on the other hand, ends with pretty much everyone dead. Any hope for society is deferred to an uncertain and offstage future. I don’t think it much matters whether it’s TV or theater or film.

As I recall, in the Golden Age of Greek theater (5th Century BCE, each playwright submitted 3 tragedies and 1 burlesque satyr play, with the last upending, mocking and relieving the seriousness of the previous plays.

Or, as somebody once said, comedy is tragedy plus time.

Posted by: Alec on November 29, 2005 4:30 AM



If it bends, it's funny; if it breaks, it's not funny.

Posted by: Brian on November 29, 2005 5:54 AM






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