Saturday, August 19, 2017

How to Write a Play – Letters from Top Playwrights

How to Write a Play - Letters from Top PlaywrightsThere is No Better Way To Learn to Write a Play Than From Successful Playwrights.

The problem is that successful playwrights are not always the best teachers. These letters in themselves are not a course of study, but rather consider these missives to serve as muses that sit on your shoulder and opine.

There are no workable rules for play-writing to be found here—nor, indeed, any particular light of any kind on the subject, so the letters may be approached with a mind arranged for enjoyment.

Any one sufficiently inexperienced to consult books in order to find out how to write a play will certainly undergo a severe touch of confusion in this case, for four of the letter-writers confess quite frankly that they do not know—two of these thereupon proceeding to tell us, thus forcibly illustrating their first statement.

One author exclaims, “Have instinct!”—another, “Have genius!” Where these two necessaries are to be obtained is not revealed. Equally discouraging is the Dumas declaration that “Some from birth know how to write a play and the others do not and never will.” That would have killed off a lot of us—if we had seen it in time.

The foregoing indicates to some extent the buffeting about which a searcher for practical advice on play-writing may find himself subject in this collection of letters. He had better go for mere instruction to those of a lower order of intellect, whose imaginative or creative faculties do not monopolize their entire mental area.

A play or drama is not a simple and straight-told story; it is a device—an invention—a carefully adjusted series of more or less ingenious traps, independent yet inter-dependent, and so arranged that while yet trapping they carry forward the plot or theme without a break.

These traps of scene, of situation, of climax, of acts and tableaux or of whatever they are, require to be set and adjusted with the utmost nicety and skill so that they will spring at the precise instant and in the precise manner to seize and hold the admiration—sympathy—interest—or whatever they may be intended to capture, of an audience.

Their construction and adjustment—once one of the simplest—is now of necessity most complicated and intricate. They must operate precisely and effectively, otherwise the play—no matter how admirable its basic idea—no matter how well the author knows life and humanity, will fail of its appeal and be worthless—for a play is worthless that is unable to provide itself with people to play to.

But audiences are a most undependable and unusual species of game. From time immemorial their tastes, requirements, habits, appetites, sentiments and general characteristics have undergone constant change and modification; and thus continues without pause to the present day. The dramatic trap that would work like a charm not long ago may not work at all to-day; the successful trap of to-day may be useless junk tomorrow.

As to the talented authors of these letters, they know excellently well—every one of them—how to write a play—or did while still alive—even tho some of them see fit to deny it; but they cannot tell us how to do it for the very good reason that it cannot be told.

Their charming efforts to find a way out when cornered by such an inquiry as appears to have been made to them are surely worth all their trouble and annoyance—not to speak of their highly probable exasperation.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Not That It Matters – A. A. Milne – Writing Essays

Not That It Matters - A. A. MilneAn Eclectic Essay Collection from Winnie-the-Pooh’s Father. (With Some on Writing…)

Not That It Matters is a collection of essays that a appeared in a variety of newspapers at the beginning of the last century, sort of an upper class, mild mannered Dave Barry of the 20’s. Many were charming and generally humorous in gentle, whimsical way, as you might expect from the author of Winnie the Pooh. Some were a bit dated such as the essay about the perfect walking stick or the one about pipe smoking and there is some use of some now un-politically correct language; but others felt just as current now as they must have been then, such as the essay titled “Intellectual Snobbery” about the shame one feels about reading popular fiction as opposed to the classics or the one titled “My Library”, about the eternal quandary of how to best arrange one’s books. These essays are probably best enjoyed a few at a time over days or weeks and not all in one go.

(From Goodreads)

About the Author

A. A. Milne was an English novelist and playwright born in 1882. A student of H. G. Wells during public school, Milne went on to study mathematics in Cambridge. During his time there, Milne frequently contributed to the college s student magazine, Granta, and was so successful that he was offered a job at the British humour magazine Punch. Milne s son, Christopher Robin, was born in 1920. After writing a poem for him entitled Teddy Bear, Milne began publishing children s stories about Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals, including his bear, Winnie-the-Pooh. Milne s children s books, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, have since become beloved classics that have been adapted into the famous Disney franchise.

For writers, be sure to read the first and last essays. Droll, informative, and enlightening.

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Short Story Writing: A Practical Treatise on the Art of the Short Story

Short Story Writing: A Practical Treatise on the Art of the Short Story - Charles Raymond BarrettA practical treatise on the art of the short story, designed to present concretely the rules of the art. It is a working manual, not a collection of untried theories. It tells how to write a story with reference to the requirements of contemporary editors.

“Both an interesting and useful book. While it is concerned with the special application of rhetorical principles to a particular department of literary art, it carries a general application that all literary workers may profit by, as in its chapters on Titles, Style, and the Labor of Authorship. Perusal of it is likely also to promote among readers a desirable repugnance to the inferior stuff which wastes time that might be better employed. Mr. Barrett’s purpose is in the interest of novices who would learn the art of telling a short story as it should be told. His precepts are pointed with numerous critiques upon specimens of poor work, and enriched by references to various books and articles on the subject which amplify and re-enforce his presentation of principles and rules.” -Outlook

“Based upon deductions made by the author in the course of work as student, writer and critic of short stories. Specially brings out the requirements of contemporary editors. Principles laid down are illustrated by extracts from actual short stories, both good and bad.” -The Book News Monthly

“If the countless thousands of would-be authors who are writing or who contemplate writing a short story would diligently study ‘Short Story Writing,’ by Charles Raymond Barrett, Ph.B., many an over-worked editor would find his burdens lightened. For the would-be author will realize, after he has read Mr. Barrett’s book, that to write a successful short story is an achievement beyond the power of ninety-nine men out of a hundred. The book is no mere presentation of theories on the part of the author. It is the result of careful analysis of the great short stories of the English language. Not only does the author show the inherent qualities of greatness which some of these stories possess, he also gives extracts from various amateur and unsuccessful stories, by which he shows plainly what a writer of short stories must not do. This treatment is one of the most helpful characteristics of his book. Mr. Barrett has treated the subject with admirable fullness….Readers of short stories as well as would-be authors will find the book interesting.” -Public Opinion

“Aims to give directions on all phases of the subject.” -Printer’s Ink

“Competent young writers who seriously desire to do something worthwhile along the line of hte short story will do well to read Charles Raymond Barrett’s ‘Short Story Writing.’ The author makes some very wise and remarkably practical suggestions. He defines the curious limitations and canons of this peculiar art form, the short story, in a clear and discriminating way. He classifies short stories, speaks helpfully of the selection of plots, talks judiciously of good and bad titles, of the use of facts, of character painting, of methods of narration, and of style. In the last chapter he gives sound advice on the quest of a market. Neither Mr. Barrett nor anyone else could turn the average man or woman into a successful short story writer, but Mr. Barrett can give a lot of good pointers.” -The Chautauquan

“A volume of definition, criticism and instruction. Sensible and based upon careful and intelligent study. Young writers will do wisely to read it and heed it.” -Congregationalist

“The book can hardly fail to be of much practical assistance to the novice in short-story writing.” -Review of Reviews


This book is an attempt to put into definite form the principles observed by the masters of the short story in the practice of their art. It is the result of a careful study of their work, of some indifferent attempts to imitate them, and of the critical examination of several thousands of short stories written by amateurs. It is designed to be of practical assistance to the novice in short story writing, from the moment the tale is dimly conceived until it is completed and ready for the editor’s judgment.

The rules and principles here presented embody not what I conceive to be right, but what the great masters of the short story have thought to be right, and what they have proved to be at least successful. I speak only as a delver into the secrets of other men; and if I seem arrogant, it is due to the influence of the company I keep. My deductions are made not only from the artifices and triumphs of the successful, but from the struggles and failures of the unfortunate as well; and I have endeavored to make clear both the philosophy and the application of all the principles so deduced. Though in theory these rules are obligatory on all who essay the short story, they are frequently and knowingly evaded or violated by the masters of the art, whose genius is great enough to excuse their disregard of the conventions, or whose skill is sufficient to smooth over their technical lapses; but for the novice the only safe course is a careful observance of all conventions.

To the aspiring writer this book may seem to be merely a catalogue of “Don’ts”, the gist of which is, “Don’t write”; but that is to misread me. Short story writing is not easy, and I cannot make it so, even if I would; but it is far from my purpose to discourage any person who feels the Heaven-sent call to write, and who has the will and ability to respond to it. But that call is but a summons to labor—and to labor the severest and most persistent. To one who comes to it but half-heartedly, illy prepared, shirking its requirements, I can predict certain failure; but to the earnest, serious, conscientious worker, I would say a word of hope. The promotion from the rank of amateur to the dignity of authorship may be long in coming, but it will come at last. Fame, like all else that this world has to give, depends largely upon downright hard work; and he who has the courage to strive in the face of disappointments will achieve success in the end.

(From the Preface)

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