PLAYWRITING SEMINARS 2.0  

A Handbook on the Art and Craft of Dramatic Writing with an

Introduction to Screenwriting

NOW IN PAPERBACK AND E-BOOK EDITIONS

Look Inside and Order the New Edition

Playwriting Seminars has been called “an absolutely essential guide to all aspects of playwriting and includes a valuable whitewater raft trip down the rapids of Hollywood screenwriting” (Magellan), and “a terrific learning environment for writers” (WebCrawler Select). It was also a recommended resource for new playwrights by New Dramatists (NYC).

Here's what they're saying about the new edition:

“What a treasure trove! I will use this in my playwriting and other theatre courses. It’s pretty damn near all there!”  -Michael Bigelow Dixon, Director/Literary Manager (Guthrie Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Alley Theatre, The Playwrights’ Center)

“I have studied the online version for years, which helped me write a Lionsgate movie, two novels and two nonfiction books. I think the book is even better.” –Chuck Hustmyre

“I found Playwriting Seminars 2.0 to be very informative.” –Casey Childs, Executive Producer, Primary Stages (New York)

"A fantastic guide to the art and mechanics of creating a play." --Joel Ebarb, Chair, Department of Theatre, Purdue University

"Richard Toscan's website and books are the best around if you want to try dramatic writing. He's one of the best teachers in the business. I followed his guidance in writing my play, HIGH THIN CIRRUS -- it sold out at the Westbeth Theatre in New York." --Michael Downend

“A treasure-trove of information, philosophy, and inspiration as well as the nuts-and-bolts of structure and analysis.”            -Theatre Journal

The Handbook’s initial concepts came from the author’s work with Lucasfilm and the BBC. It was originally developed for playwrights and screenwriters, but has since been used by writers of fiction and nonfiction books. (All of the structural issues of dramatic writing apply to genre fiction.)

The new paperback and e-book editions cover all aspects of writing full-length plays with an expanded treatment of screenwriting for Hollywood and independent film as well as 10 diagrams of key elements of dramatic structure. Playwriting techniques are explained with many examples from classic and contemporary plays performed today by America's regional theatres as well as on Broadway and Off-Broadway. The 392-page Handbook explains the interconnections between characters and plot and the importance of subtext to character development in the contemporary theatre (what characters don’t tell us matters as much as what they say in dialogue). Key exercises are included for developing “voice” as a writer and for creating the essential dual plot structure that supports intriguing characters in today’s theatre. Many professionals in theatre and film are quoted on key parts of the art and craft of playwriting and screenwriting to help explain effective techniques.

Special sections of the Handbook focus on getting inspiration and avoiding writer’s block, editing first drafts, professional script formats for theatre and film (including software), how to launch new scripts, putting together submission packages for theatres and competitions, how to write an effective script synopsis and writer’s bio, working with directors, actors and agents, how to survive audience “talkbacks” following readings and workshop productions, methods to adjust your playwriting skills for screenwriting and television work, and options for making a living at the craft of dramatic writing.

A Note on Dual Plot Structure

The concept of dual or twin plots is one of the core understandings of Playwriting Seminars 2.0 and was first suggested by the great Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley. This insight has a long pedigree, but the real proof of the concept is in the practice of playwriting: It is nearly impossible to find produced plays by contemporary playwrights who don’t use this dual plot structure.

These twins (or pairs) are called suspense and emotional plots in this Handbook since the terms capture the key differences between them, but what they are named matters far less than the impact they have on contemporary playwriting. Why playwrights use this dual plot structure may owe much more to the way human beings have always told lasting stories than to theoretical understandings. While it may be uncomfortable to acknowledge for those who like to make clear distinctions between so-called "high" and "low" art, this dual plot structure crosses media from theatre to film and novels, showing up in such seemingly dissimilar works as Hamlet and mass market blockbusters. Plot structure is essential -- the desire for that and why people respond to it is probably built into our DNA -- but what is created on top of that dual plot structure out of characters and story ultimately determines the way audiences and readers will respond. Demonstrating this key part of the craft of dramatic writing is one of the goals of the new edition of Playwriting Seminars.


Now in paperback and e-book editions.

Don't have a Kindle, but want the e-book? Get free Kindle reading apps from Amazon for iPad, iPhone, PC, Mac, and Android (they work well).

Order PLAYWRITING SEMINARS 2.0 (From Amazon.com)

A Handbook on the Art and Craft of Dramatic Writing with an Introduction to Screenwriting

TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THE NEW EDITION

PRAISE: For the First Edition of Playwriting Seminars

CREDITS & AUTHOR

USC School of Theatre

First Stage & New Dramatists

FORWARD: The Focus of Playwriting Seminars 2.0

Parts of the Handbook

Plays Cited & Examples

Regional Theatres as Entry Point

The Market for New Plays

Hollywood Options

Best Practice Notes

Where to Start in the Handbook

PROLOGUE: Starting from Scratch

The Four Bones of Playwriting

A Note on Dual Plot Structure

Reading Plays

LIST OF DIAGRAMS

Structure of Two-Act Plays

History of the Story & Point of Attack

Exposition & Foreshadowing

Inciting Incident

Suspense & Emotional Plots

Act I High Point & Curtain Line

Structure of Act II

Climax & Obligatory Scene

Emotional Patterns

Act Movements of a Full-Length Play

PART ONE - CONTENT: What’s in a Play

1. VOICE: YOUR SOUND AS A WRITER

Quirks of Spoken Language

LISTEN MORE Talk Less

Eavesdropping for Art

2. SUBJECTS OF PLAYS

Reading Plays & Play Readings

Plays Are About Consequences

Family Problems vs. the World

Writing What You Know

Doing Research

3. USES OF TRUTH & REAL LIFE

Docudrama

Model Docudramas

4. USING THE WORK OF OTHER WRITERS

5. ADAPTING OLDER PLAYS & NOVELS

Against Adaptation

Legal Cautions

Keys to Adapting Older Plays

The “Suggested By” Approach

6. USING OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES

Legal Cautions

Recreating Actual People

Creating Versions of Public Figures

Recent “Icon” Characters

Getting Back at Your Parents

7. INCORPORATING POPULAR SONGS

Ways of Using Popular Songs

Permissions for Using Popular Songs

8. THEMES: THE MEANING IN CONTENT

Integrating Your Personal Values

Some Intriguing Themes

Cautions on Writing from a Theme

9. USING AN AUTHORIAL SPOKESPERSON

Candidates for Spokesperson

10. TITLES: DESCRIPTIVE & METAPHORIC

Dangers of Descriptive Titles

Obvious & Intriguing Descriptive Titles

Advantages of Metaphoric Titles

Inspired Metaphoric Titles

Hybrid Titles

Strong Hybrid Titles

Using Act Titles

Notable Act Titles

11. CHARACTERS: WHAT’S MODERN IN MODERN DRAMA

The Internalized Villain

Impact on Endings

12. CREATING & NAMING CHARACTERS

Complex Characters & Internal Conflict

Meaning in Character Names

Contemporary Character Names

Names from Well Known Playwrights

13. CONFLICT: THE CHARACTER DEVELOPER

Conflict as Overcoming Obstacles

Killers of Dramatic Conflict

Triangular Conflict Problems

14. THE PLAYWRIGHT’S POINT OF VIEW

The Group Character Alternative

15. LANGUAGE: FOUL & OTHERWISE

The Naughtiness Factor

Clichés: The Great Ear Closers

Writing in Accents

16. SUBTEXT: WHAT CHARACTERS DON’T TELL US

A Subtext Example

Characters Speaking Subtext

Cutting Spoken Subtext

How Spoken Subtext Kills Plays

Settings as Visual Subtext

No-Subtext Plays

17. USING DRAMATIC IRONY

Irony vs. Being Stupid

Contemporary Dramatic Irony

18. SERIOUS COMEDY & THE REVERSE

Laughter is Everywhere

PART TWO – STRUCTURE: Parts of a Full-Length Play

19. THE SHAPE OF TWO-ACT PLAYS

Caution on Experimental Structures

The Two-Act Play Standard

List of Structure Diagrams

20. STRUCTURE OF A TWO-ACT PLAY

21. POINT OF ATTACK: THE BEGINNING

Points of Attack in Notable Plays

The Teaser Point of Attack

Teaser Point of Attack Techniques

Notable Teaser Points of Attack

22. EXPOSITION & FORESHADOWING: PAST & FUTURE

Why Exposition

Deliberate Elimination of Exposition

Role of Foreshadowing

The Key to Foreshadowing

Deliberate Withholding of Foreshadowing

23. USING NARRATORS

Narrators Have a Stake in the Outcome

Key Places for Narrators

A Few Good Narrators

24. INCITING INCIDENT: LIGHTING THE FUSE OF CONFLICT

Flagging the Inciting Incident

Forms of Inciting Incidents

Notable Inciting Incidents

25. PLOTS: THEY COME IN PAIRS

Suspense & Emotional Plots

Emotional Plots Are Why You Write

Some Notable Emotional Plots

Suspense Plot Function

Suspense Plot Techniques

Evolving Suspense Plots

Clarifying the Suspense Plot in Cat

Reintroductions of the Suspense Plot

“Red Herring” Suspense Plots

Repetitive Activity as Suspense Plot Substitute

Notable Long Mundane Activities

26. ELEVATOR PLAYS: THE BISQUICK PLOT

Elevator Principles

Notable Plays with Elevators

27. HIGH POINT OF ACT I

Notable Act I High Points

28. CURTAIN LINES FOR ACTS & SCENES

Curtain Line Options

Some Notable Act I Curtain Lines

29. ACT II & ITS PROBLEMS

Saving Conflict for Act II

Act II Realities

Intermissions & Story Time Breaks

Economics of Intermissions

30. CLIMAX & THE OBLIGATORY SCENE

The Climax from Narrowing of Options

Notable Climaxes

Role of the Obligatory Scene

The Obligatory Scene Sequence

Annotated Obligatory Scene

31. THE RESOLUTION & ENDINGS

Avoiding Tying It All Up

The Last Word

Open Endings

Notable Open Endings

Happy Endings

The Dreaded “Refrigerator Question”

32. EMOTIONAL PATTERNS

The Hollywood Cliché Pattern

Use of Patterns in Serious Comedy & Tragedy

33. LENGTH OF FULL-LENGTH PLAYS

The 90-Minute Rule

Length: The “Hamlet Question”

Acts and Intermissions

No Intermission Plays

Three-Act Plays

34. TIME STRUCTURES

Continuous Time Examples

Using Flashbacks

Adding a Third Layer of Time

Going into Hyper Time

Notable Uses of Hyper Time

Using Formal Scenes

35. CHARACTERS: QUANTITIES & CAUTIONS

The Magic Number 10

One-Character Plays

Celebrities as Characters

Invisible Characters in One-Person Shows

Solo Performance

Kids as Characters

Animals as Characters

36. MONOLOGUES: THEY’RE MINI-PLAYS

The Monologue as Aria

Keys to Writing Monologues

Length of Monologues

37. USING THEATRICAL DEVICES & STYLES

Use It & Own It for the Duration

Devices Needing Early Use

Contemporary Naturalism

“Rules” for Using Naturalism

Representation vs. Presentation

38. WRITING ONE-ACT PLAYS

Related One-Acts

Unifying Related One-Acts

Tips for Writing One-Acts

PART THREE – WORKING: The Day Job of Playwriting

39. WRITER’S BLOCK & INSPIRATION

Writing is Work

Writer’s Block

If Prevention Fails

Technical Blocks to Writing

Getting Inspiration

40. KNOWING WHEN TO START WRITING

The “Good to Have” List

Outlining: Why (and Why Not)

A Caution on Outlining

41. WRITING EXERCISES: TO DO OR NOT TO DO

Exercise 1: Getting Rid of Spoken Subtext

Exercise 2: Combining Suspense & Emotional Plots

Exercise 3: Keeping a Journal

42. EDITING: THE HARD WORK OF SECOND-GUESSING

The Play in Your Head vs. on the Page

43. EDITING CHARACTERS

Characters Needing the Ax

44. EDITING STAGE DIRECTIONS

Opening Stage Directions

General Stage Directions

Character Stage Directions

45. EDITING DIALOGUE

Red Flags in Dialogue

Spoken Subtext

Talking-to-Yourself Lines

Typical Talking-to-Yourself Lines

Transition Lines

Variant Lines

Using Apparent Repetition

Foreshadowing

Fact Checking

46. FINDING HIDDEN MONOLOGUES

Hidden Monologue Example (Still Buried)

Scene Edited for Cuts Including Transition Lines

Hidden Monologue Brought to the Surface

47. TURNING FALSE MONOLOGUES INTO DIALOGUE

A False Monologue Pair

The False Monologue into Dialogue

48. EDITING STRUCTURE

Inserting Suspense Plots

Beginning of the Play

Beginnings of Scenes & Acts

Warm Up Lines

Warm-up Lines Scene Marked for Cuts

Endings of Scenes and Acts

Climax of the Play

Resolution of the Play

49. CRITICS & ADVICE FROM YOUR FRIENDS

Theatre Critics

Self Criticism

Muffling Your Self Critic

50. WHEN TO STOP REWRITING

PART FOUR – FORMAT: What Scripts Look Like

51. PROFESSIONAL MANUSCRIPT FORMAT FOR PLAYS

Advantages of Using the Format

Getting It Done for You

Traditional & Modern Format

Publishing vs. Script Formats

52. PAPER, FONTS & FORMAT BY THE NUMBERS

Paper Weight & Color

Font & Type Size

Script Format by the Numbers

Dialogue Page I-1 of a Script in Format

53. TITLE & PRELIMINARY PAGES

Title Page & Example

Character Page & Example

Setting & Time Page & Example

Scene Breakdown Page

Quote Page

Notable Quotes on Quote Pages

Numbering of Preliminary Pages

54. DIALOGUE PAGES

Page Numbering

Act & Formal Scene Designations

Opening Stage Directions

Character Names

Character Stage Directions

Dialogue Spacing

(Pause.) Stage Direction

(Overlapping) Stage Direction

(Continued) Character Note

General Stage Directions

Act & Formal Scene Endings

55. COVERS & BINDINGS: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The “Never Use” Bindings List

Being Kind to Your Readers

PART FIVE – BUSINESS: Bringing Your Play to Production

56. THE BUSINESS OF PLAYWRITING

Copyright Protection for Plays

U.S. Copyright Office

57. COMPETITIONS & NEW PLAY DEVELOPMENT

A Caution on Entry Fees

New Play Development Programs

Negatives of Play Development

The Play Development Process

58. READING YOUR AUDIENCE

Phase 1: During the Performance

The Noises of Boredom

Phase 2: During the Audience Discussion

Tips for Surviving Audience Discussions

59. SUBMITTING SCRIPTS TO THEATRES & COMPETITIONS

The Script Submission Package

Letter of Inquiry

The SASE

A Caution on Mailing Scripts in the U.S.

Multiple Submissions

Record Keeping

60. WRITING THE SCRIPT SYNOPSIS

Rules for a Good Synopsis

A Sample Synopsis

The Dialogue Sample

SASE for the Synopsis Package

61. THE PLAYWRIGHT’S RESUME

The “Include List” for Bios

Playwright’s Bio Example

62. PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT: DRAMATISTS GUILD & TCG

The Dramatists Guild

DG Annual Resource Directory

Theatre Communications Group

TCG Dramatists Sourcebook

UK Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook

TCG American Theatre Magazine

63. PLAYWRIGHT’S PRODUCTION TEAM

Literary Manager

Dramaturg

Artistic Director

Director

Designers

Working with the Production Team

64. AGENTS & MAKING A LIVING AT THIS

Pressures of Writing Success

Agents

Making a Living At This

Royalties

A Caution on “Collaboration” with Directors

On Taking a Writing Day Job

65. PRODUCING IT YOURSELF

Playwright-Founded Theatres

Making Self-Producing Work

Beware of Hubris

PART SIX – SCREENWRITING: For Playwrights

66. REALITIES OF THE SCREENPLAY TRADE

Playwrights vs. Screenwriters

Your Role in the Hollywood Machine

Working Both Sides of the Theatre/Film Divide

The Stage vs. Screen Story Rule

Film & Its Parent

67. VISUAL VS. VERBAL STORYTELLING

Opening of Antonioni’s The Passenger

Opening of Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden

Dialogue vs. Images

68. MAKING SCREENPLAYS WORK

19 Adjustments for Screenwriting

The Rom Com Option

69. ADAPTING YOUR PLAY FOR THE SCREEN

“Opening Up” A Play

Time Expansion

Keeping It Your Film

Tips for Making it Work

70. READING PROFESSIONAL SCREENPLAYS

Knowing the World Beyond Film

Contemporary Classic Screenplays to Read

Reading vs. Seeing in Film

Draft vs. Shooting Scripts

On Seeing Films

71. PROFESSIONAL FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

Paper & Fonts

Title & Preliminary Pages

Screenplay Format by the Numbers

Scene & Dialogue Pages

Page 1 of a Screenplay in Format

Screenplay Covers & Bindings

72. USING SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

Advantages of Using Software

The Industry Standards

Writing for the BBC

73. WRITING FOR TELEVISION

Increasing Quality of Television Writing

Making it Work

Software & Series Templates

74. THE HOLLYWOOD HUSTLE

The LA Story

12 Steps of the Hustle

75. PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT: WRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA

WGA West & East

Script Registration Service

The Myth of Story Theft in Hollywood

76. THE INDIE OPTION

The Indie Road to Hollywood

Features & Shorts

Writing for the Indies

Thinking in Indie Time x 11

Indie Screenplay Competitions

AFTERWORD – QUOTES ON CRAFT: On Writing for Theatre, Film & Television

The Collection: 475 Quotes on Craft


Look Inside and Order PLAYWRITING SEMINARS 2.0

Now in paperback and e-book editions.

Don't have a Kindle, but want the e-book? Get free Kindle reading apps from Amazon for iPad, PC, Mac, and Android (they work well).

Here's Richard Toscan's blog, Writers Room Confidential, featuring contemporary playwrights, screenwriters, and novelists on their craft.

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PLAYWRITING SEMINARS: THE FULL-LENGTH PLAY
Copyright 2013 by Richard Toscan. All rights reserved.
http://www.vcu.edu/arts/playwriting/