I work as a literary manager in a professional theatre with a strong new play development program-- working with playwrights is my life's work.
There are a lot of playwriting manuals out there, and I think this is one of the very best.
What's so great about it?
1) Hatcher is a well-known, prolific, successful professional playwright. His plays have been produced nationwide, including at my theatre (we're trying to commission him to write a new play for us right now)-- and he really knows what he's talking about. He's established professionally and his experience shows. (Two of my favorites of his: SOCKDOLOGY; SCOTLAND ROAD).
2) The book avoids the usual pitfall of playwriting books-- the methodical fallacy. That is, the fallacy that playwrights work from step a to step b. So that, once you lay out how a play's arc should work, all a playwright needs to do is plot it out, as if it's a budget on a spreadsheet-- without giving help to how to flesh out a character, how to make a scene interesting.
While Hatcher does suggest planning out the plot and writing linearly i (he may be the ONLY professional playwright I know who really does work from an outline; most writers, even the ones who write these how-tos, will confess that they often have a couple of scenes and maybe an ending-- more like a kamikaze mission than a planned road-trip), Hatcher also includes exercises and ideas at the end of every chapter.
These are GREAT generative devices! (Idea-boosters). He has great tips for improving dialogue, keeping a scene active, "raising the stakes"-- he doesn't just theorize, he gives hands-on exercises-- which work.
I taught playwriting at a small liberal arts college for the first time last spring, and I made this book a requirement. Because it covers all the basics of play structure and terminology without dwelling in them too much, so it didn't bore my acting students (who were already familiar with the term) and it didn't confuse my writing students (who knew about structure but were unfamiliar with theatrical specifics like "subtext").
I combined this book with Jeffrey Sweet's books and found that these, in combination with the tips my writer friends threw my way, really covered it all.
This book is a great resource, and I dip into it from time to time when I'm trying to figure out what to say to a playwright whose play isn't gelling but I'm not sure why.
Not to be missed by anyone aspiring to write plays, and a fun read for anyone who just enjoys knowing how playwrights work on their craft. Entertaining prose, full of examples, and an indispensable manual.