The Playwright's Guidebook An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing

Stuart Spencer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

392 Pages



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During the ten years that Stuart Spencer has taught playwriting, he has struggled to find an effective playwriting handbook for his courses. Although most of the currently popular handbooks have good ideas in them, they all suffer from the same problems: they're poorly organized; are composed mostly of quirky, idiosyncratic advice on how specific playwrights have gone about writing their own work; and are full of abstract theorizing on the nature of art. As a result, they fail to offer any concrete information on how to construct a well-written play or any useful guidelines and exercises. Moreover, few of these books are actually written by working playwrights. Out of frustration, Spencer wrote his own book. The result, The Playwright's Guidebook, is a clear, concise, and engaging handbook. Spencer addresses the important principles of structure, includes insightful writing exercises that build upon one another, explores the creative process, and troubleshoots recurrent problems that playwrights actually face.


Praise for The Playwright's Guidebook

"You learn playwrighting from a combination of hard knocks and good advice. Spencer's book is full of the latter. Read it and save yourself some bruises."—Terrence McNally

"Stuart Spencer's meticulous handbook does something I had thought was almost impossible: it describes, clarifies and analyzes the mysterious process of building a play. And moreover, he does so with the grace and respect of a first-rate teacher for the intelligence and potential of his students. There is no ideology, no formula for instant success here. Just the distilled experience of a real practitioner generous enough to share, and reliable enough to be trusted."—Jon Robin Baitz, author of Ten Unknowns and Substance of Fire

"Stuart Spencer's The Playwright's Guidebook is indispensable. Clearly and thoroughly, Mr. Spencer—a playwright himself—leads all playwrights (not only the beginner) through the travails of creation and the jungle of production. He is to be congratulated."—Edward Albee

"Eureka! A clearly written, well-structured, intelligent how-to book about playwrighting. Like the good teacher and good writer that he is, Stuart Spencer guides rather than browbeats. Should be next to the laptop of any aspiring, or working, playwright."—Warren Leight, author of Side Man

"If you want to be a playwright, here's your bible."—David Lindsay-Abaire, author of Fuddy Meers and Wonder of the World

"At last! A straight-from-the-shoulder approach to playwrighting that finally blows the dust off much of the mystique surrounding this craft. Stuart Spencer writes with wit, insight, clarity, brilliant first-hand knowledge, and yes, finally, offers genuine help! Refreshing and beautifully organized, this book is long overdue."—Jack O'Brien, Artistic Director, The Globe Theatre, San Diego."

"A sensible, lucid, thorough and tremendously helpful journey into the always mysterious realities of playwrighting."—Romulus Linney, author of The Sorrows of Frederick, Holy Ghosts, and Tennessee

"Mr. Spencer's guidebook is full of solid, straightforward advice in a conversational voice that takes the mystery out of how plays are wrought, not written."—Michael Weller, author of Moon Children, Loose Ends and Co-founder of the Mentor Project at the Cherry Lane Theatre

"Succinct but insightful . . . In Part 1, Spencer lays out the 'rules' of playwriting with the caveat that they are not written in stone but still need to be studied and understood, especially by new writers. Part 2 covers the creative process, describing how to define an idea and use gut instincts to write what you need to say. Part 3 deals with problems and tips on how and when to rewrite (e.g., how to create 'cut lines' files). Finally, Part 4 is loaded with advice on what to read and how to write cover letters and contact literary agents. Well structured and easy to read and use."—Lisa J. Cihlar, Library Journal

"A practical compendium based on author Stuart Spencer's experience crafting plays and teaching at Sarah Lawrence College, The Playwright's Guidebook offers counsel on issues like structure, conflict, character and problem-solving. This contemporary guide fills the gaps left open by many books, supplying organized and realistic advice for would-be playwrights."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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The Playwright's Guidebook

THE TOOLS we're about to discuss provide you with the means to begin writing your play. Even the expert use of these tools will not solve...

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  • Stuart Spencer

  • Stuart Spencer's most recent play, Resident Alien, has been produced around the country and been optioned for film. He teaches playwriting at Sarah Lawrence College.