Novel writing tips from a playwright

stage-play-20.jpgAt 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.

  1. 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.”]
  2. A pattern of increasingly intense action and suspense, prepared by exposition. (This pattern is assisted by contrived entrances and exits, letters, and other devices.)
  3. A series of ups and downs in the hero’s fortunes, caused by his conflict with an adversary.
  4. 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.
  5. A central misunderstanding or quid pro quo, made obvious to the spectator but withheld from the participants.
  6. A logical and credible denouement.
  7. The reproduction of the overall action pattern in the individual acts.
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