Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

These notes about playwriting were drawn from Alan Ayckbourn's correspondence.

Tips On Playwriting

Some useful tips on playwriting:

1) Decide what medium you want to write for.

2) Then find examples of writing in this form that you admire. Try and analyse why they work. Don't be afraid to be a bit derivative for a while. Nearly everyone is when they start out.

3) Initially, try and write something that obeys the rules of dramatic writing rather than shatters them, i.e. write something with a strong narrative, clearly told and with as few characters as possible who will develop with that narrative. I say a few characters because it's far more difficult to develop several. Particularly if each is to have the individual voice and speech pattern which he ought to have. And bear in mind that for every extra character added to the play, it gets more expensive to stage. (Is your third postman really necessary?) And talking of rules, it's useful to try and contain the period of action over 24 hours, too. It prevents sprawling.

4) If you're writing a comedy, try and avoid any joke that requires you to make a detour in the narrative - however tiny - simply in order to make that joke.

5) If writing a tragedy, try and find the odd joke along the way. Audiences need these escape valves. Get them laughing with you rather than inadvertently at you.

6) Better still just to write a play without trying to categorise it at all. Humour and sadness exist quite happily together and are, quite often, the better for each other's company.

7) Be true to your characters, i.e., don't betray them by making them behave uncharacteristically solely to tidy up the loose ends.

8) Talking of loose ends, never (in an ideal world) include any element in a play that isn't relevant to the whole. (Character, prop, embryonic situation). Everything should relate in some manner, however obliquely.

9) Remember plays are visual as well as aural things. Try and tell the story visually as well as verbally. Some will say it's the responsibility of the director to do this. It isn't. All he'll do is invent business in order to cover up the lack of movement that exists in the script. But that's papering over the cracks.

10) Find a balance between overwriting and hanging on like grim death to a script that no one wants to know about. Put it in a drawer, set fire to it, whatever. Onto the next. If you really believe you have talent, then exercise it. Don't fritter it on trivia but don't hoard it either.

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