An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing
Book Review by Laura Roberts
Although taking advice aimed at playwrights may seem like a strange idea to a novelist or writer of short fiction, one of my go-to writing advice books is Stuart Spencer’s The Playwright’s Guidebook. With the subtitle An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing, you might think this book is only for those looking to write a stage play, but no! Indeed, it is Spencer’s belief that all good writing is dramatic writing that can help make all the difference between stories that fall flat and those that shimmer with life.
Divided into five parts, the book explores how we tell stories by looking under the hood at structure, getting up close and personal with the creative process, detailing how to deal with problems, and offering both general and practical advice—along with a breathtaking reading list plus plenty of writing exercises that are sure to test your skills.
Spencer’s advice is cross-genre in its application, urging writers to take a close and careful look at each character’s “action”, or motivation. By breaking down stories into scenes, and figuring out what each character is trying to accomplish by the scene’s end, writers can get a better grip on where each piece of their story needs to go. Meanwhile, probing each character’s motivation for being in the room will help pave the path from one scene to the next, up to the story’s logical conclusion.
Spencer recommends writing from an image, and provides numerous prompts that can help writers envision their characters in different scenarios that will stimulate the senses. Whether you are writing for the page or the stage, his commandment to bring all five senses to life helps writers to focus on much more than mere description, developing setting as well as character when viewed through a protagonist’s (or antagonist’s) eyes.