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Amid the hundreds of "how-to" books that have appeared in recent years, there have been very few which attempted to analyze the mysteries of play-construction. This book does that -- and its principles are so valid that they apply equally well to the short story, novel and screenplay.

Lajos Egri examines a play from the inside out, starting with the heart of any drama: its characters. For it is people -- their private natures and their inter-relationships -- that move a story and give it life. All good dramatic writing depends upon an understanding of human motives. Why do people act as they do? What forces transform a coward into a hero, a hero into a coward? What is it that Romeo does early in Shakespeare's play that makes his later suicide seem inevitable? Why must Nora leave her husband at the end of A Doll's House?

These are a few of the fascinating problems which Egri analyzes. He shows how it is essential for the author to have a basic premise -- a thesis, demonstrated in terms of human behavior -- and to develop his dramatic conflict on the basis of that behavior. Premise, character, conflict: this is Egri's ABC. His book is a direct, jargon-free approach to the problem of achieving truth in a literary creation.

Topics: Writing, Screenwriting, Writers, How-To Guides, Guides, Prescriptive, and Essays

Published: Touchstone on
ISBN: 9781439123799
List price: $13.99
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seed of drama = conflict



[ this was the textbook at both ucla & sc when spielberg, copolla, lucas, etc. were at film school ]more
Egri describes premise, character, and conflict as the essential elements - and the heart - of any play. He espouses an approach to play-writing “based on the natural law of dialectics” rather than instinct.Using several examples, Egri analyzes what makes plays “good” or “bad.” There’s a lot of good material here toward writing a truthful, character-driven play that’s honest to its characters, actors, and the audience.more
I liked it. It follows parameters that became quite typical for Myron Bolitar-less novels by Harlan Coben - namely, suburban life, hidden secrets in the past, etc. Even so, it's a very entertaining and easy read, and more importantly, the plot makes sense.more
A classic which I have come to late (both for it and for me). Of course, reading in the 21st century, you have to make some allowances for a text that was first published in the 1940s - I found the mock Q & As with an anonymous earnest playwright a little reminiscent of government-sponsored information films of the 40s and 50s, and nostalgically amusing for that - and you have to ignore the ingrained sexism which is also of its time, and the general tone of top-down pedantry; but it is a mark of how good this book is that it is possible to swerve around all of these historic relics and still find a good route map to effective playwriting.I found the chapters on Premise and Character especially useful - refreshing rather than illuminating for someone who has read other guides to writing drama, but worthwhile for all that, and very practical if a mite prescriptive. The case studies too are generally well done, not least Ibsen's 'The Doll's House', a particular favourite of Egri's which he returns to frequently to illustrate points of character development and stagecraft. It's such a good example that I am now re-reading the play to study it further and enjoy it again.The subtitle of 'The Art of Dramatic Writing': Its Basis In The Creative Interpretation Of Human Motives summarises Egri's basic thesis very well - the 1940s fascination with psychology post-Freud is evident - and it more or less stands the test of time.Don't make this the only book you read if you are serious about writing plays, but by no means neglect it.more
Egri writes clearly and presents his case for the fundamentals of drama, using examples from then-contemporary plays. He argues that good drama has a premise and strong characters in inevitable conflict with each other with believable emotional transitions. He contradicts Aristotle, who claimed in the ´Poetics´ that plot precedes character. This work sounds convincing, and has stayed in print for a long time. Certainly it contains some sound principles. However I´m not entirely convinced. The tone is a little bit arrogant at times, from the use of the unexplained plural or royal ´we´', to the little dialogue sections of the book where the author responds authoritatively to an anonymous questioner. I´m not a fan of the dialogue form in general, though I suppose a book about dramatic writing may be an appropriate place for it. And it may be just my ignorance or cultural backwardness, but I´d only ever seen or heard of a handful of the plays Egri refers to in this work -- either the ones he approved of or otherwise. Fortunately he provides a synopsis of several of the plays as an appendix.more
Having studied playwriting dialectics in college years ago, I found this "classic guide" to be a wonderful reminder of the basic tenets of storytelling. Many popular books on the subject written today tend to focus on screenwriting, and have an unfortunate tendency to speculate about what will and will not please industry insiders. Contrary to such books, Lajos Egri offers substantial bits of timeless advice (e.g., believe what you write and don't for a minute concern yourself about what industry insiders might think). The main through-line of the book, however, is a deeply held belief that premise and character fuel conflict and are indispensable to good writing. On these and other points, Egri is astonishingly clear and precise; which is a welcome departure from the airy ambiguities that degrade most discussions on the mechanics of art. This is a guide that works.more
Explores motive as the driver of character and so of the plotmore
Read all 7 reviews

Reviews

seed of drama = conflict



[ this was the textbook at both ucla & sc when spielberg, copolla, lucas, etc. were at film school ]more
Egri describes premise, character, and conflict as the essential elements - and the heart - of any play. He espouses an approach to play-writing “based on the natural law of dialectics” rather than instinct.Using several examples, Egri analyzes what makes plays “good” or “bad.” There’s a lot of good material here toward writing a truthful, character-driven play that’s honest to its characters, actors, and the audience.more
I liked it. It follows parameters that became quite typical for Myron Bolitar-less novels by Harlan Coben - namely, suburban life, hidden secrets in the past, etc. Even so, it's a very entertaining and easy read, and more importantly, the plot makes sense.more
A classic which I have come to late (both for it and for me). Of course, reading in the 21st century, you have to make some allowances for a text that was first published in the 1940s - I found the mock Q & As with an anonymous earnest playwright a little reminiscent of government-sponsored information films of the 40s and 50s, and nostalgically amusing for that - and you have to ignore the ingrained sexism which is also of its time, and the general tone of top-down pedantry; but it is a mark of how good this book is that it is possible to swerve around all of these historic relics and still find a good route map to effective playwriting.I found the chapters on Premise and Character especially useful - refreshing rather than illuminating for someone who has read other guides to writing drama, but worthwhile for all that, and very practical if a mite prescriptive. The case studies too are generally well done, not least Ibsen's 'The Doll's House', a particular favourite of Egri's which he returns to frequently to illustrate points of character development and stagecraft. It's such a good example that I am now re-reading the play to study it further and enjoy it again.The subtitle of 'The Art of Dramatic Writing': Its Basis In The Creative Interpretation Of Human Motives summarises Egri's basic thesis very well - the 1940s fascination with psychology post-Freud is evident - and it more or less stands the test of time.Don't make this the only book you read if you are serious about writing plays, but by no means neglect it.more
Egri writes clearly and presents his case for the fundamentals of drama, using examples from then-contemporary plays. He argues that good drama has a premise and strong characters in inevitable conflict with each other with believable emotional transitions. He contradicts Aristotle, who claimed in the ´Poetics´ that plot precedes character. This work sounds convincing, and has stayed in print for a long time. Certainly it contains some sound principles. However I´m not entirely convinced. The tone is a little bit arrogant at times, from the use of the unexplained plural or royal ´we´', to the little dialogue sections of the book where the author responds authoritatively to an anonymous questioner. I´m not a fan of the dialogue form in general, though I suppose a book about dramatic writing may be an appropriate place for it. And it may be just my ignorance or cultural backwardness, but I´d only ever seen or heard of a handful of the plays Egri refers to in this work -- either the ones he approved of or otherwise. Fortunately he provides a synopsis of several of the plays as an appendix.more
Having studied playwriting dialectics in college years ago, I found this "classic guide" to be a wonderful reminder of the basic tenets of storytelling. Many popular books on the subject written today tend to focus on screenwriting, and have an unfortunate tendency to speculate about what will and will not please industry insiders. Contrary to such books, Lajos Egri offers substantial bits of timeless advice (e.g., believe what you write and don't for a minute concern yourself about what industry insiders might think). The main through-line of the book, however, is a deeply held belief that premise and character fuel conflict and are indispensable to good writing. On these and other points, Egri is astonishingly clear and precise; which is a welcome departure from the airy ambiguities that degrade most discussions on the mechanics of art. This is a guide that works.more
Explores motive as the driver of character and so of the plotmore
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