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Two books for your graduating playwright...

  • 1.  Two books for your graduating playwright...

    Posted 05-10-2024 13:59
    Edited by Stephen Gregg 05-10-2024 14:00

    The pleasure and danger of reading books about playwriting is that it takes the place of actual writing,  but here are two books that reward the time spent reading them: Backwards and Forwards by David Ball and The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler.

     Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays has been around a long time. My high school drama teacher, Mickey Prokopiak, gave it to me upon my own graduation. Backwards and Forwards introduced me to a new idea: that playwrights use a set of techniques to engage-even manipulate-audiences in order to tell compelling stories. It's written in appealingly bite-sized chapters that cover topics that should be part of every playwriting manual but aren't, like how to construct a plot (think: dominoes) and what is theatricality: "things that elicit a strong audience response."

    The second book, The Writer's Journey, is Christopher Vogler's distillation of the work of the story and myth scholar Joseph Campbell. After studying myths from around the world, Campbell found commonalities that he described in The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Hero's Journey. Alas, reading Campbell is like wading through waist-deep water. Vogler distills and summarizes Campbell, and he does so with an eye to how current day writers can cherry pick the monomyth: the underlying structure that Campbell believed underlay most stories. Campbell's 75-year-old tomes are oft- (and often justly) criticized as outdated. But the idea that there are underlying story elements that large swathes of people respond to is a powerful one, The Writer's Journey is an excellent introduction to it.

    Stephen Gregg