I’ve been reading Stephen Jeffreys’ ”Playwriting” more or less without putting it down and it’s been like having energy poured straight into my veins. Something about all the different ways of thinking about or approaching writing and story has felt really invigorating. The last year or so I’ve been craving books and talks about (play)writing, but more specifically about form and structure and Jeffreys’ feels like the last in a line of books that have made me excited, rather than terrified, by the idea of consciously working with structure and form.
|Sapfo the dramaturgicat keeping an no eyes on the book|
When I started writing I just did it, I just wrote things down and found out what was going on as I went. I knew there was such a thing as structure, it tended to be talked about as dramaturgy, but it scared me. My thinking went: If you know and understand structure then you apply it to everything, consciously, all the time! And if you don’t understand structure you’re an intuitive writer and you don’t plan anything, or make any conscious decisions, ever.
I do to this day consider myself an intuitive writer but I’ve, slowly, come to realize that I can still think consciously about structure and form. If I’d read any books about dramaturgy 15 years ago they would have probably terrified me. All the rules. All the different, and sometimes contradictory, rules. For every scene, for every line, for every single beat of the play. It’s easy to feel like you’re going to fail before you even start.
Starting out I was so convinced that if I in any way consciously worked on the structure aspect of a script it would turn out to be hopeless shit and fall apart and die instantly. A play had to be written in some state of pure inspiration and flow, because it sure as hell wasn’t consciously crafted. So it took me a couple of plays to understand that my writing wasn’t just a lucky fluke and that thinking in terms of dramaturgy wasn’t going to leave me crying or turned into a ball of anxiety under the desk.
Somewhere I had heard about people using index cards on corkboards to plan out their stories and I just couldn’t get my head around it. Why would you do that? Now I use loads of post-it notes on my living room door when I’m trying to work something out. And it feels like a good, and equally creative, part of the process rather than a test to either pass or fail.
|If you haven't got a cork board, use your door!|
I think that’s why reading something like “Playwriting” is, at least for me at this stage of my life, so energizing. Rather than rules it feels like a conversation with a friend that’s smarter than you and gives you new ideas and thoughts all the time. They’re not telling you how to write your play, they’re just talking to you, showing you different paths you can take, but ultimately letting you decide for yourself what you want to do, and how.