Book Review: The Playwright’s Handbook

The Playwright’s Handbook:  For Beginning And Professional Playwrights–A Complete Guide To Writing A Full-Length Play And Getting It Produced, by Frank Pike and Thomas G. Dunn

I purchased this book when I went to my last Powell’s trip, and although it took me a while to get around to it, given my love of reading about writing [1], this was definitely a rewarding read.  In fact, I would be willing to make a series of posts that address the various writing ideas in this book as a playwright if anyone wants to see my writing process at work.  As a note, if you want to see me work my way through these elements, please comment below or send me a message, and I’ll add it to my series of posts.  That said, the book took a bit longer for me to read than it would have taken normally since I normally don’t think of writing when I am reading books [2].  It is not a bad thing at all, though, when a book makes me think of writing, and the end result for someone who has written quite a few plays is that I would think of myself as somewhere in the advanced or experienced playwright, with some exercises that are immensely enjoyable to reflect on.

The contents of this book are divided into two parts.  The first part of the book looks at the process of writing plays and consists of three workshops.  The beginner’s workshop focuses on the fundamentals of being observant and building characters and working on basic scenes and scenarios.  The intermediate workshop encourages the playwright to create a stock company of characters to work with larger groups, deal with questions of interrupted rituals and unresolved conflicts and the balance between comic and serious.  The advanced workshop encourages the playwright to define vision, select and compress raw material, sketch individual scenes, work to create first rough and then more detailed scenarios, and then writing and polishing a full play.  The second part of the book then provides several chapters that deal with the professional aspect of being a playwright, including getting one’s play read by the right people and organizing readings and workshops, then starting a new play workshop as a not-for-profit, entering contests, getting one’s plays produced, and making ends meet as a writer.  Obviously, for a writer like myself, this sort of book is useful for dealing with both sides of the writing craft, doing the writing and then finding a way of making a living, something that I have always struggled with myself as a writer.

Although this edition of the book was written about twenty years ago and the information in the book, especially the contest information and the various addresses, may not be up-to-date any longer, overall this is a book well worth appreciating.  If someone is a writer with vocational interests, this is the sort of book that can provide a writer with the knowledge as well as the expertise to be able to successfully navigate the social and economic world of writing.  Playwrights happen to exist in one of those odd intersections between the largely private and solitary activity of writing and the social world of performing, and a playwright has to be particularly comfortable with both worlds.  This book does an excellent job of encouraging its readers to take their craft seriously and to form the connections that allow someone to find their work appreciated.  And that is the sort of work that I can wholeheartedly recommend, at least to those people like myself who write out of passion and are quite willing to make something more of it.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/12/01/book-review-creative-writing-masterclass-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/02/06/book-review-the-new-art-of-writing-plays/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2014/07/11/book-review-writing-the-australian-crawl/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/02/22/book-review-88-money-making-writing-jobs/

[2] But see, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2016/04/18/an-introduction-to-the-naming-our-abuse-project/

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About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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