News | 2006 | Playwrighting Tools

The Playwright's Guidebook by Stuart Spencer

I'm in the middle of writing two plays, and for help, I've turned to Stuart Spencer's The Playwright's Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing. Spencer breaks his book into four sections: structure, the creative process, dealing with problems, and some advice. For the most part, he speaks of plays holistically, saying that most elements in successful plays are seamlessly woven together.

Bearing this in mind, Spencer does isolate several tools playwrights can use in his section on structure. These tools essentially boil down to three things: action, conflict, and event. For sure, Spencer also addresses motivation, subtext, stakes, as well as the structural elements of beats, scenes, and acts, but it's his concept of playwrighting tools that I found the most fascinating.

Here are Spencer's tools:

  • Action is what a character wants.
  • Conflict is that thing (or person) which prevents a character from getting what he or she wants.
  • Event is a change, usually internal to a character, that comes about as a result of the action and the conflict.

Spencer says that by using these three tools, playwrights can create successful plays. At it's most simplified, his idea of a play is "one character either gets what she wants as a result of the action and conflict or does not get it. Regardless, however, she also gets a third thing--something unexpected, something more than was bargained for [the internal change]."

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