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3 minutes
January 6, 2016

The Superiority Of The Playwriting Gurus

Story structure is there to communicate the Author's message with clarity and confidence, not to make the message formulaic.

A new blog, Real Time Cinematics, takes time out to attack the easy targets of Field, Snyder and Vogler:

One of the major reasons that most screenplays are God awful, is because modern script writers have been brainwashed by the screenwriting gurus.

I used to have this rather cynical view of things, until I realized that it has less to do with the works of these individuals and more a misunderstanding of how narrative works.

The best way to learn how to do something is to be immersed in it. If your read 10 Shakespeare plays in a few months, you will be a better dramatist for it. If you want to write romantic comedies, then by all means read and watch as many rom-coms as you can. You’ll learn more doing that than reading the gurus.

What would be even better would be to look into Shakespeare’s plays and see how they so accurately reflect the mind’s problem-solving process. Hamlet. Romeo and Juliet. Othello. These persist because we still intuitively solve problems the same way we did 400 years ago. So yes, you can trust the process and hope that it will all work out, or you can delve further into a narrative model based on the mind’s psychology and see a commonality among all great narrative.

The playwriting gurus are not concerned with formula, but only the act of getting exactly what your heart wants to write on the page.

Dramatica is concerned with this as well. The storyform is essentially the carrier-wave for the Author’s intent and there are some 30,000+ different forms to choose from now. The trick is finding what it is you want to say, and say it in a way that is clear and meaningful.

Spencer talks about writing from the impulse you get from being attracted to writing a certain piece, and learning how to stay with that impulse until the work is complete…He talks about writing from the subconscious and to not worry about structure or the overall presentation of the piece until the end of the first draft.

As mentioned before in my article Always Be Writing, some writers look at a blank page and see an ocean of possibilities; other writers look at the same page and see a giant wall. One isn’t better than the other, and in fact it’s great when collaborating if one of you is a structuralist and the other is more of an organic writer. My greatest successes have come when I have teamed up with more “impulsive” and “subconscious”-driven writers.1

Playwriting gurus cannot claim superiority over the screenwiritng gurus. All narrative functions the same regardless of medium; plays, novels or screenplays—they still function as models of the mind’s problem-solving process. Whether you prefer to get the form right before you start or after the first draft—eventually you’ll have to get the form right. The structure is there to communicate the Author’s message, not make the message formulaic.


  1. Obviously I see the blank page as a wall. ↩︎

Concepts covered: The Storyform.

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