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Play writing books

I am gradually amassing quite a pile of books about writing plays. Collecting and reading them is probably a displacement/procrastination activity. One of these days I really am (or so I keep telling myself) going to write a play. Just don’t ask me when.

Anyway, the latest – and the best and most relevant for an aspirant playwright, however woolly – to arrive on my desk from Nick Hern Books is Playwriting: Structure, Character, How and What to Write by the late and much missed charismatic expert in the field, Stephen Jeffreys. He died last year, having been working since 2012 with Maeve McKeown on this book which is based on his highly respected masterclasses. The author’s own plays include The Libertine and a dramatisation of Hard Times which has been performed all over the world.

The book is full of meaty practical advice all stitched together with accessibly explained theory. He divides plays into types: autobiographical (probably what I shall eventually write), researched, historical, adaptations and others, for example. And he examines character types, dialogue, and scene writing among many other things. I shall, I know, be returning, and referring, to this book a lot.

Then, in the unlikely event of my ever succeeding in this genre I have, also from NHB, Being A Playwright by Chris Foxon and George Turvey. It’s a detailed, practical advice book about how to manage your career so it includes advice about collaborative projects, applying for funding, training opportunities and a whole lot more. This book was published in 2018.

Similar information comes in Playwriting: A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion which Bloomsbury published in 2016.  It’s strong on ever current practical stuff about networking the industry, managing your rewrites, writing dialogue and there are lots of tips from Stoppard and Wertenbaker et al and even some auto-didact exercises so in a sense this is a how-to manual too.

Finally, for people who’ve been there, done that etc and are now turning to teaching there’s Paul Gardiner’s Teaching Playwriting: Creativity in Practice (MethuenDrama, 2019) It’s a how-to book for teachers which quite powerfully makes the point that, as well as the need to develop potential professional playwrights, school students should be taught the skills just as they are taught how to write essays, poems and stories. As it is, play writing seems to be something of an educational Cinderella zone. This book is little more theoretically academic than the others but it’s an interesting, wide ranging read with plenty of useful ideas and exercises to try with students.

No excuse, then, Susan. You have the information. Just get on with it.

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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