At last week’s meeting of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade, we talked about things that novelists can learn from playwrights and screenwriters. The top three things that were agreed upon were:
- Writing tighter.
- Creating sharper dialogue.
- Portraying emotion through movement and action.
We were also introduced to the “Seven Main Structural Features of a Well-Made Play.” Although William Archer’s list from his book, Playmaking, A Manual of Craftsmanship, is 90 years old, it is still pertinent to not only modern playwrights but novelists.
- A plot based on a secret known to the audience but withheld from certain characters (who have been engaged in a battle of wits) until its revelation (or the direct consequence thereof) in the climactic scene serves to unmask a fraudulent character and restore to good fortune the suffering hero, with whom the audience has been made to sympathize. [“The play usually deals with the culmination of a long story, the greater part of which has occurred before the curtain goes up. This late beginning of the play is called a late point of attack. The action is through exposition always delayed until the forgoing events have been related for the audience benefit.”]
- A pattern of increasingly intense action and suspense, prepared by exposition. (This pattern is assisted by contrived entrances and exits, letters, and other devices.)
- A series of ups and downs in the hero’s fortunes, caused by his conflict with an adversary.
- The counterpunch of peripeteia (the greatest in a series of mishaps suffered by the hero) and scene a faire, marking, respectively, the lowest and highest point in the hero’s adventures, and brought about by the disclosure of secrets to the opposing side.
- A central misunderstanding or quid pro quo, made obvious to the spectator but withheld from the participants.
- A logical and credible denouement.
- The reproduction of the overall action pattern in the individual acts.