PLAYWRITING QUOTES II

quotations about playwriting

One usually dislikes a play while writing it, but afterward it grows on one. Let others judge and make decisions.

ANTON CHEKHOV, letter to Maxim Gorky, September 24, 1900

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I hold more and more surely to the conviction that the use of masks will be discovered eventually to be the freest solution of the modern dramatist's problem as to how -- with the greatest possible dramatic clarity and economy of means -- he can express those profound hidden conflicts of the mind which the probings of psychology continue to disclose to us.

EUGENE O'NEILL, "Memoranda on Masks"

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Drama lies in extreme exaggeration of the feelings, an exaggeration that dislocates flat everyday reality.

EUGENE IONESCO, Notes and Counter Notes

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New dramatic writing has banished conversational dialogue from the stage as a relic of dramaturgy based on conflict and exchange: any story, intrigue or plot that is too neatly tied up is suspect.

PATRICE PAVIS, Theatre at the Crossroads of Culture

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When I first started writing plays I couldn't write good dialogue because I didn't respect how black people talked. I thought that in order to make art out of their dialogue I had to change it, make it into something different. Once I learned to value and respect my characters, I could really hear them. I let them start talking.

AUGUST WILSON, The Paris Review, Winter 1999

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People fail to realize the technical conditions of drama, and think that, in the case of so simple a matter as playwriting, everyone is as good a judge as his neighbor. With regard to music and painting, you will hear people modestly confess that they have no expert knowledge, though "they know what they like." With regard to drama, they are troubled with no such diffidence. They not only know what they like, but they know what you ought to like, and more especially what you ought to despise.

WILLIAM ARCHER, The Old Drama and the New: An Essay in Re-valuation

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As for the story, whether the poet takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.

ARISTOTLE, Poetics

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What shouldn't you do if you're a young playwright? Don't bore the audience! I mean, even if you have to resort to totally arbitrary killing on stage, or pointless gunfire, at least it'll catch their attention and keep them awake. Just keep the thing going any way you can.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, The Paris Review, fall 1981

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Society is inside of man and man is inside society, and you cannot even create a truthfully drawn psychological entity on the stage until you understand his social relations and their power to make him what he is and to prevent him from being what he is not. The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish.

ARTHUR MILLER, "The Shadows of the Gods"

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I get fed up with all this nonsense of ringing people up and lighting cigarettes and answering the doorbell that passes for action in so many modern plays.

GRAHAM GREENE, The Paris Review, autumn 1953

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I think that's foolishness on the part of the playwright to write about himself. People don't know anything about themselves.

EDWARD ALBEE, interview, The Believer

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In a play, from the beginning, you have to realize that you're preparing something which is going into the hands of other people, unknown at the time you're writing it.

T. S. ELIOT, The Paris Review, Spring-Summer 1959

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The difference between a live play and a dead one is that in the former the characters control the plot, while in the latter the plot controls the characters.

WILLIAM ARCHER, Play-making: A Manual of Craftsmanship

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The subject of drama is The Lie. At the end of the drama THE TRUTH -- which has been overlooked, disregarded, scorned, and denied -- prevails. And that is how we know the Drama is done.

DAVID MAMET, Three Uses of the Knife

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In playwriting, you've got to be able to write dialogue. And if you write enough of it and let it flow enough, you'll probably come across something that will give you a key as to structure. I think the process of writing a play is working back and forth between the moment and the whole. The moment and the whole, the fluidity of the dialogue and the necessity of a strict construction. Letting one predominate for a while and coming back and fixing it so that eventually what you do, like a pastry chef, is frost your mistakes, if you can.

DAVID MAMET, The Paris Review, spring 1997

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When I'm writing a play I hear it like music. I use the same indications that a composer does for duration. There's a difference, I tell my students, between a semi-colon and a period. A difference in duration. And we have all these wonderful things, we use commas and underlining and all the wonderful punctuation things we can use in the same way a composer uses them in music. And we can indicate, as specifically as a composer, the way we want our piece to sound.

EDWARD ALBEE, interview with Daniel Stern, 1998

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Fantastic plays, which assume an order of things more or less exempt from the limitations of physical reality, ought nevertheless to be logically faithful to their own assumptions.

WILLIAM ARCHER, Play-making: A Manual of Craftsmanship

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Quite often I have a compelling sense of how a role should be played. And I'm proved--equally as often--quite wrong.

HAROLD PINTER, The Paris Review, fall 1966

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I believe the way to write a good play is to convince yourself it is easy to do--then go ahead and do it with ease. Don't maul, don't suffer, don't groan till the first draft is finished. A play is a pheonix and it dies a thousand deaths. Usually at night. In the morning it springs up again from its ashes and crows like a happy rooster. It is never as bad as you think, it is never as good. It is somewhere in between, and success or failure depends on which end of your emotional gamut concerning its value it approaches more closely. But it is much more likely to be good if you think it is wonderful while you are writing the first draft. An artist must believe in himself. Your belief is contagious. Others may say he is vain, but they are affected.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, Notebooks

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Anything you put in a play -- any speech -- has got to do one of two things: either define character or push the action of the play along.

EDWARD ALBEE, interview with Steve Capra, 1996

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