About five years ago I was in a college playwrighting class and at some point we read an “essay” called “The 10 Golden Rules of Playwrighting.” I don’t remember what most of them were, but I do remember our discussion afterward – that the person who wrote this list must have been a jilted writer, because man, her rules sucked. It always pisses me off when artists say that this is THE ONLY WAY to do things. This was my biggest beef with Blake Snyder: a well-paid screenwriter, maybe, but just because your method has worked for you doesn’t mean it is THE ONLY WAY. This writer did the same thing.
In retrospect, I’d like to see her list again, because they may have had some merit. One of the rules I remember was that your play had to be about one person – which is definitely a widely accepted rule of screenwriting today. But at the time we thought she was just a miserable curmudgeon of a failed writer because of the tone with which she insisted that her rules must be followed. We, as a class, suggested an extra credit assignment of writing our own 10 golden rules, which I did.
David Kassin Fried’s first (2003) edition of the 10 Golden Rules for Writing:
- Write every day.
- Write for yourself, not for anyone else.
- Keep a pad of paper on you at all times. Write down anything you see, hear, or think, that is even remotely interesting, theatrical, or related.
- Eavesdrop religiously. See rule #3.
- Read. Remember what you read. If you like what you read, buy it, so you can refer to it later.
- Write about your life, not about yourself. The character that the author models after himself is quite often the dullest in the play.
- Don’t’ listen to anyone’s advice while you’re writing the play. After you’ve written it, listen to everyone’s advice, but ignore most of them. Remember, it’s your play, and you have the final word, even if everyone else disagrees.
- Don’t write plays that explain themselves. If you have to, you can explain it later.
- Take a class. When you’ve finished it, take another one. When there are no more classes to take, teach one. There is no breeding ground for creativity like a creative environment.
- Figure out what you want to say, and figure it out as early in your career as possible. Once you’ve figured it out, write about it until you’ve said it successfully. If, once you’ve said it successfully, you don’t have anything else to say, say it in a different medium. If, once you’ve exhausted all media, you still don’t have anything else to say, you are either a genius or a miserable excuse for an artist. Only time will tell.
It’s kind of neat looking back on old assignments like this. I wonder, now, if I’d change any of these in light of my five extra years’ experience. There’s probably one in particular I would expand; it’s the one I plan on discussing in my next column, and is what had me think of these rules in the first place.
I’d love to get your feedback if you agree or disagree with any of these, or have your own golden rules you follow.