Studying Dramatic Writing

I recently bought the book Into The Woods: a Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke. I found this book recommended in a video Lauren Gunderson: On Structure. This proved to be a book for screenwriters by a British television show producer. Ordinarily I don’t buy screenwriting books because I’m a snob, but I have to confess that I’m very impressed with this book so far. You should not consider playwriting to be separate from other forms of dramatic writing like television script writing or screenwriting. Clearly the writers working in those fields think of themselves as artists and they write well enough to command respect.  I’ve also started to read Story by Robert McKee, one of the most famous books on screenwriting. Robert McKee also strikes me as being a real artist and not somebody who has much patience for formulaic writing.

Although these books do a good job of explaining story structure and make good arguments for the significance of story, I still think you need to develop an even deeper understanding of the psychology of story and narrative structures. It is all very well and good to point out that a character needs to grow as a person to make the story more satisfying, but without a good understanding of psychology and some genuine wisdom you aren’t going to know how to do this. Sure you can copy how it is done in countless films and plays but that is not going to seem very original or insightful.

There is a lot more to learning how to tell a great story than meets the eye. You are not going to learn how from reading just one book on creative writing. Fortunately I have developed procedures for learning a subject which serve me well. When a subject of study is extremely important to me I devote far more time, money, and effort than most people probably do. I never try to learn something in 24 hours, 7 days, or using whatever other shortcut is being peddled.

Here is how I go about studying something. First, I don’t try to memorize anything through rote repetition. Instead, I will buy multiple books on the same subject and rely on the natural repetition to be found between the books to cause memorization to occur naturally. This also has the advantage of giving me different viewpoints on the subject. Secondly, I follow up on a lot of the other works referenced in the books I am reading. This tends to expand the field of inquiry endlessly, but it does mean that I get exposure to all the great ideas that lead to the concepts the scholar came up with. This often has the effect of giving me a more comprehensive understanding of the concepts than you would get simply from the ultimate expression of the concept. In other words, it allows you to follow the development of the thought.

Students don’t seem to realize that most courses are just introductory courses. You aren’t meant to take just one course and take away all you need to know from that. If you have the time and the money, you should do an exhaustive study. The problem with a lot of writing classes is the instructor is trying to be entertaining rather than informative and he often does not give enough examples to really drive home the point. By reading multiple books on story structure and narrative I am accumulating more insights and examples than can be found in a single source. Because of this I’m really starting to develop a profound understanding of why dramatic stories mean so much to us.

Part of the reason why writers are encouraged to read a lot is so that they will form deep knowledge of how the language works and how stories are developed. It is a long and involved process. All learning should be a long and involved process when your goal is to gain real expertise. This is the same methodology I have used to learn technology.

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