Top positive review
33 people found this helpful
Invaluable practical guide
on 31 January 2008
Tim is a playwright and an inspiring writing tutor - I've done several of his courses and found them really useful for understanding and absorbing mainstream play structure. I suspect this book will be of use to acting students as much as to aspiring writers; I've certainly found his principles invaluable when attempting to analyse plays with directing students.
The actual how-to part of the book may not seem that long - about seventy pages - and a substantial amount of the book is about the process of putting a play on, getting an agent, pitfalls, etc. But the point is that what Tim does say about the process of writing is invaluable because it's the bottled essence of years of working with students and his own experience. His style is down to earth and the book is set out as a series of questions or points so you can return to appropriate sections easily.
He's never overly prescriptive although he fiendishly cuts off the excuses that some of us have for not completing work: "the crucial thing is to keep the play in focus at some time during each day...the moment you get out of the habit of writing every day (for however short a time) ... it is amazing how quickly your project will vanish from view and the subconscious will cease to work on it." (Ain't it the truth?) He also suggests that with the first draft the primary aim is to get to the end, and being too precious about dialogue is pointless at this stage: "You should be thinking about the overall arc and architecture of the piece. Will the building still stand up - and what work needs to be done if it won't." The idea that the second draft should be written afresh rather than cut and pasted from the first is a painful thought (though another practising playwright and tutor, Lin Coghlan, has said much the same), but it's in the third draft, Tim says, where he starts to pay more attention to the dialogue as well as the structure and story arc.
Writing on spec is a lonely and frustrating occupation for the unproven playwright: there's the Catch 22 situation of needing the help and advice from theatres to complete a good draft which is rarely offered until you have, er, already completed a good draft. If you don't have the support system of a writing group (or even if you do) the practical advice in this readable little book can be highly recommended - and as a former literary manager of the Bush Theatre he's pretty well qualified to offer advice on avoiding common writing pitfalls.