About The Dramatic Writer’s Companion

The Dramatic Writer’s Companion
  • There are already a lot of books about playwriting and screenwriting. What makes this one different?
  • Many books tell you how to write a play or screenplay. Some do this through explanations of dramatic theory. Some offer a formula to help you complete a script. The Dramatic Writer’s Companion doesn’t tell you how to write a play. Instead, it helps you learn how to write this play – the one you’re working on now – and it does so by combining dramatic theory and action steps in a way that sets this guide apart from the rest.

    Rather than being another “how to” manual with a linear or formulaic prescription for scriptwriting, The Dramatic Writer’s Companion is a creative and analytical reference tool that can be used as needed to accomplish specific tasks on a particular play or screenplay in development. In effect, the focus of the guide is always your current script and what it needs next.

    This focus is supported by a unique nonlinear design that features more than sixty in-depth self-contained exercises for dramatic writers. You can use these exercises in any order and any number of times to address different issues that may arise as you write, revise, and edit. Your ongoing use of the guide will reflect not only your individual writing process, but also your current script development needs, whether it’s fleshing out a new character, tackling a problem scene, or analyzing your story. This self-directed nonlinear approach aligns with the creative process, builds on the notion that there is no one way to develop a script, and offers you a comprehensive support tool with indefinite shelf life.

  • I see that a Second Edition of the guide is now available. How does this differ from the original one?
  • Sporting a new cover, the Second Edition includes all of the same tools and features as the original guide plus new cross-references at the end of each exercise to related tools in Will Dunne’s complementary guide Character, Scene, and Story. Suppose, for example, that you have just completed “Character Adjustments” to examine the current emotional life of your characters in a scene and that you wish to explore this topic in more depth or from another angle. The cross-reference at the end of the exercise refers you to a choice of two exercises in Character, Scene, and Story: a character development tool called “The Emotional Character” and a scene development tool called “The Emotional Onion.” At the same time, each exercise in Character, Scene, and Story includes cross-references back to related topics in The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. The two guides are thus fully aligned.
  • Is this guide mostly for playwrights or screenwriters?
  • The Dramatic Writer’s Companion is written from a playwright’s perspective, but includes screenwriters as well as playwrights in its embrace since both types of dramatic writers face many of the same character, scene, and story challenges. Guide exercises address these common issues and include script analyses from hundreds of plays and films, including both contemporary and classical masterworks.
  • What is most distinctive about the exercises themselves?
  • Their power to help you discover, explore, and analyze your own ideas – not someone else’s. By blending theory with action steps, these workshop-tested exercises guide you dynamically into new directions – not “before” or “after” but literally “as” story is being created. In other words, these are not exercises for their own sake. Nor are they templates for storytelling or diversions that only skim the surface of thought. Perhaps the strongest and most valued feedback the author has received from writers over the years is that these in-depth exercises enable them to work purely from themselves – freely and personally – to find the stories they really wanted to tell.
  • Does the guide have any other special features that I should know about?
  • To help you select exercises as you develop your script and assess its progress, the guide includes a detailed menu of exercise summaries as well as an at-a-glance menu for quick reference. At the end of the guide, you also will find a special troubleshooting section that highlights twenty common script problems and identifies specific exercises in the guide that can help you find solutions.
  • How were these particular exercises chosen?
  • Over the past twenty years, the author has conducted over fifteen hundred workshops for playwrights and screenwriters and has consistently used exercises like these to address the specific character, scene, and story issues that surfaced from week to week during script critiques. The Dramatic Writer’s Companion represents the best of these exercises which have been subsequently tested with different writer groups and refined, as needed, for best results.
  • Wouldn’t I be better off just writing my script instead of doing exercises?
  • These are not separate activities since you never really leave your script when you are using The Dramatic Writer’s Companion. Each exercise focuses on the unique challenges of your characters, your scenes, and your story. In effect, doing an exercise is the same as working on your script – with some guidance added.
The Dramatic Writer’s Companion
  • What if I’ve never developed a script before?
  • The guide is meant for writers who are working on a script now or about to begin one. Some familiarity with a dramatic writing process will make it easier to explore and take advantage of the nonlinear design of the book. At the same time, however, each exercise highlights or demonstrates principles of dramatic writing that are often at work in master scripts. For experienced writers, these principles serve as reminders of storytelling basics to either exploit, bend, or ignore. For beginners, they can provide succinct and practical introductions to writing for stage or screen.
  • Is there anything new about the dramatic theory in this guide?
  • What most makes the guide unique is its nonlinear design, individual focus, and translation of dramatic theory into specific action steps. This theory reflects principles of dramatic storytelling often illustrated in successful plays and screenplays, but does break with some traditional approaches in its emphasis on character as the root function of scene and story. In effect, every exercise in the guide, including every scene and story exercise, is viewed essentially as a character exploration.
  • With a book that’s nonlinear, how will I know where to begin or what to do next?
  • Be sure to read the introduction “About This Guide” which explains how this unique reference tool works. If you prefer to have more structure in selecting exercises, the guide suggests when each may be best to use during the script development process.
  • How long does it take to do an exercise?
  • That depends on you. Most exercises in the guide can be completed in thirty minutes or less.
  • Are these exercises geared more to individual or group use?
  • The guide addresses the individual playwright or screenwriter and focuses on an individual play or screenplay – the one the writer is working on now. However, every exercise in the guide can easily be adapted to the needs of writing workshops, classes, and other groups. In fact, each exercise evolved from critique activities in a workshop setting and was originally designed for use by a group of writers.
  • I also write fiction. Would these exercises work for that as well?
  • As storytellers, fiction writers face many of the same issues as playwrights and screenwriters. For example, they need to develop compelling characters and engaging stories. While the guide speaks directly to playwrights and screenwriters, most of the exercises can be easily adapted to the needs of fiction writers. In fact, the author has successfully used a number of these same exercises in workshops where participants were writing fiction and creative nonfiction.
  • How do I get a copy?
  • Through the University of Chicago Press or most major bookstores. The Dramatic Writer’s Companion (352 pages) is available in cloth, paper, and electronic versions. Click here to obtain your copy.