Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Playwriting 101

OrphansLast weekend, and thanks to my TDF membership, I had the opportunity to see a performance of Orphans, a new play starring Alec Baldwin that is currently in previews on Broadway. And I was reminded, as I am nearly every time I go to watch a play, that I’d really like to learn how to write a play of my own.

So this post is more a request for resources than anything else. I’d love to receive suggestions regarding:

1) online introductory playwriting courses that you might recommend;
2) “how-to” books on playwriting that you have found to be useful; and/or
3) any other suggestions on how I might incorporate playwriting into my writing practice (for instance, I’m guessing that reading actual play scripts would be helpful, and I actually have a script or two on hand, but I’d be grateful for recommendations of scripts that have worked especially well for you, whether you’ve been teaching or studying playwriting).

Thank you all in advance!

10 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: Playwriting 101

  1. Jennifer Solheim says:

    Erika, I’ll look forward to the responses here. A friend of mine recommended to me Harold Clurman’s “On Directing.” My friend uses it as inspiration for fiction prompts, which was how he was introduced to the book in an undergrad creative writing course when he was at Iowa. I found it really helpful in terms of working on getting into my characters’ heads – but I think it will be especially helpful in thinking about some of the issues of playwriting that aren’t a part of fiction writing. Hope you’re doing well! Jenn

  2. Amar says:

    Hi Erika,

    For the past two or three years I’ve been taking online classes for fiction writing through Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The courses have been high quality, with dedicated instructors, which is why I keep taking them. They have a number of various classes they teach, including a Level 1 Playwriting class, and an Advanced Playwriting class. You’ve got the choice of taking an online class or a “real” class in NYC. If you want more information, check out this link:

    I hope this helps, and thanks for all your fun and informative posts and links.


  3. Erika Dreifus says:

    Thank you both very much!

  4. Of course, the best way to learn how to write a play is to read lots of plays by the great playwrights. Watch the performance, then watch it again, play in hand.

    Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” books are highly recommended; they’re about screenwriting, but the probably a lot of the techniques are the same. Syd Field has some books on the same topic, as does Robert McKee.

    I think hanging around theaters during rehearsals works, or talking with producers or college drama departments.

    There are programs that help one structure a drama – Montage, Contour, a few others. These format the screen and also provide movie/play structure guides.

    I’ve foodled with writing drama, but not seriously. One genre I haven’t gotten into – yet.

  5. Jill Pertler says:

    Erika –

    I’ve written three full-length plays. The third is being performed tonight for the first time at the local high school. I have read “how-to” books on play writing, but I think I learned more from reading scripts. I may be unique, but I learn best by doing. I started with a basic story idea and sort of went from there. It’s a different kind of writing, to be sure, but it is thrilling to see your words being performed in front of a live audience. I say go for it!

  6. Erika Dreifus says:

    Right–I know I need to read more scripts. Suggestions?

    And Jill, congratulations on the production tonight! How exciting that is.

  7. Jill Pertler says:

    I’d suggest reading scripts by writers/authors you enjoy. I read a book containing scripts by Joyce Carol Oates because I devour her fiction. Also, choose examples from the genre in which you see yourself writing. Comedy? Mystery? A musical? I’m a fan of old stuff. I read Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams. I perused Amazon and ordered books that looked interesting.

    For me, the process was sort of like putting a puzzle together. You have different strands of storyline that have to intertwine and somehow come out untangled at the end. You have characters coming on and off stage. You have the set and scene changes. It all has to fit together. I enjoyed the process and feel I’ve gotten better at it each time.

    Tonight’s performance got cancelled due to a snowstorm. I am in northern Minnesota, but I don’t know why I stay here, except perhaps for the people. They are great. The weather, not great.

    I loved your book of short stories. Have you considered taking one of those and adapting it for stage? It might be a way to get started.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks so much, Jill. JCO is a great idea. I have a book of Chekhov plays on hand, and I may start with those. And yes, I am thinking of adapting one of my stories to begin.

      I am sorry about tonight’s performance! I hope that it will be rescheduled soon.

  8. Sean M. Price says:

    The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri is one of the best books on the topic. Although his advice is directed toward the dramatist, I find Egri’s approach equally useful in crafting fiction.

Comments are closed.