Review of How Plays Work

How odd – when I said that I was feeling my age, I wasn’t wrong! I tend to be reading a lot of non-fiction, more so than fiction (although both concepts are rather vague as they are!), and recently I’ve come across a lot of Playwriting books. Now, those of you who believe that writing is a craft – it most definitely is – the difference is that we’ve usually had relatively more exposure to it than say photography or web design. A lot of forethought, structuring and depth is required for any piece of writing (even this one!), and I’m sure I’m not alone in being lost for words on occasion or placed the punchline before the buildup to a joke!

So, on to the book itself! How Plays Work, by David Edgar – pretty self explanatory, I have to say!

It’s a great comprehensive guide into each of the building blocks required to construct a coherent and meaningful performance piece. The sections are: Actions, Character, Genre, Structure, Scenes, Devices and my greatest nemesis – Endings!

Now, I purposefully left out the first chapter, which really sparked my interest in this book in the first place. It’s called Audiences, which really put my writing head on back into perspective. If I had a penny for every time someone called me out for “writing for myself” and “don’t assume the reader will understand what the author is saying” to the plain “what the hell is this text I see before me!?”, then I wouldn’t need funding at all! I tend to be as cryptic as well… me, I guess. The fact that David Edgar put the Audience first and foremost struck a chord with me, because, well, the audience is always right.

I have never seen so many references being used to so many different plays in one publication before. David Edgar, who founded the Playwriting Studies course at Birmingham 2 years after I was born, clearly knows his stuff. He skips across concepts like Emplotment, Axis and Currency, Contractual and Performative plot forms whilst casually dropping in some masterpieces of Ibsen, Shakespeare (of course), Brecht, Noel Coward, Beckett, Ayckbourn, Miller, Sarah Kane and Caryl Churchill just to name a few.

I got this book from Ebay, and it really gives you bang for your buck – especially revising it to go through some steps and ideas when structuring what essentially is “people talking”, and seeing what methods you can go through to get to your characters and extract all their needs and little quirks to make it believable and well, most importantly, to mean something. It’s like a very comprehensive manual, although with so many references, you can go off the beaten track a little and just stare bewilderingly at the wildlife.

I’d say it’s definitely a good read if you’re looking into Play writing or even another form of fiction. Give it a shot!

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