The Art of Dramatic Writing – Book Reviews

If you have ever wondered why some stories succeed or fail whether in play, movie, short story, or novel form, Lajos Egri’s insightful book The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives (Touchstone, 1942) will provide you with the keys to a story’s status as a winner or flop.

Egri wrote for playwrights yet his book is routinely assigned as required reading in screenwriting and creative writing courses. Since 1942, students have been reading The Art of Dramatic Writing to find that “something to generate tension, something to create complication, without any conscious attempt on the playwright’s part to do so.” (p.xx)

For Egri, every good story has a powerful premise that is more powerful than a theme, because it identifies conflict and outcome. Egri uses the following example to illustrate what he means by premise:

“Frugality leads to waste.” (p.8) “Frugality” suggests character; “leads to” suggests conflict; and “waste” suggests the end of the play. (p.8). Egri then goes on to emulate many types of premises, which all retain “leads to” as a suggestion of conflict.

The house you build around the premise blueprint is the difference between a great writer and a mediocre one. However, Egri believes that “without exception everyone was born with creative ability.” (p. xx) He provides would-be writers with the tools to build well-rounded characters who are capable of inhering a story’s premise by being driven by motives. Egri writes that it is difficult to know where premise and character begin and end in the well-constructed story.

Later Egri lets readers know that “character creates plot” (p.98) and that successful characters and stories depend on characters who change. Egri underscores this point when he writes that “only change is eternal.” (p.47)

Egri’s book is a treasure trove for writers and readers alike. Even if you have no inclination to write yourself, Egri can teach you to become an incisive critic of why some stories leave you nonplussed or enthusiastic. For writers and story lovers alike, Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives is a must-have for home reference shelf.

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This post originally appeared on Ruth Paget’s blog Belle Vie Reviews and More –