All About Theater

Essentials of Play Writing 2

Experience has taught the practical playwright that the only way to construct a good play is by determining definitely, before beginning to write at all, the ending of the play and how that end is to be achieved.

When a survey, many years ago, was sent to prominent playwrights asking information about their methods of working, the answers varied greatly in detail, but all the playwrights agreed upon this one point... each of them constructed the last act of their plays in every detail before beginning to write; while one or two declared that they actually wrote the dialogue of the last act before writing a line of the first act.

In order to have a clear working plan, the practical dramatist makes what he calls a "scenario" of his play; and the beginning playwright can not do better than to imitate him. The best "scenario" is made by following the French plan of calling each successive dialogue a "scene" until it is broken up or added to by the addition or departure of one or more members. 

For instance, let's suppose the writer is beginning his play: he makes out notes like this:


SCENE.  Description of scene here.


A and B seated, discussing affairs of C.
Interrupted by D. Exit of A.


B and D plot to spread further scandal about C.


Entry of C with his daughter E.
B talks to C. D attempts unsuccessfully to make love to E.
C attemps to negotiate business with B, and fails.
Mem. - Try conversation in strophe and antistrophe. Exit B and D.


C with E.
Pathetic revelation of impending ruin.
Interrupted by arrival of F, hero 

There are more or less fifteen of these scenes or subdivisions to each act (with the more usually being in the second act, and the less in the third).

By using this  method, each entrance and exit and the reason for making them are arranged. The gist of each conversation is settled, and the author is able to see how long characters will be kept upon the stage, and thus avoid the danger of making parts too long or too short.

It is very desireable that an entire act should take place in one scene or set, as the shifting of scenery before the eyes of an audience always destroys something of the illusion.


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