Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for September 26th, 2014

A playwright’s laws of thought

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John Howard Lawson

The laws of thought which underlie the creative process require that the playwright begin with a root idea. He may be unconscious of this; he may think that the creative urge springs from random and purposeless thoughts; but disorganized thought cannot lead to organized activity; however vague his social attitude may be, it is sufficiently conscious and purposive to lead him to the volitional representation of action. Baker says that “a play may start from almost anything; a detached thought that flashes through the mind; a theory of conduct or of art which one firmly believes or wishes only to examine; a bit of dialogue overheard or imagined; a setting, real or imagined, which creates emotion in the observer; a perfectly detached scene, the antecedents and consequences of which are as yet unknown; a figure glimpsed in a crowd which for some reason arrests the attention of the dramatist, or a figure closely studied; a contrast or similarity between two people or conditions of life; a mere incident—noted in a newspaper or book, heard in idle talk, or observed; or a story, told only in the barest outlines or with the utmost detail.”

There is no doubt that a playwright may start with any of these odds and ends of fact or fancy. He may complete an entire play by spontaneously piecing together bits of experience and information, without ever attaining the slightest understanding of the principles which underlie his activity. But whether he knows it or not, the process is not as spontaneous as it appears. The “bit of dialogue,” or “figure glimpsed in a crowd,” or detailed story, do not appeal to him by chance; the reason lies in a point of view which he has developed as a result of his own experience; his point of view is sufficiently definite to make him feel the need of crystallizing it; he wants to find events which have a bearing on the picture of events which he has formed in his mind. When he finds a “bit of dialogue” or a “figure glimpsed in a crowd” or a story, he is not satisfied that this proves or justifies his point of view—if he were satisfied, he would stop right there, and would not be moved to further activity. What he seeks is the most complete volitional representation of the root idea. The root idea is abstract, because it is the sum total of many experiences. He cannot be satisfied until he has turned it into a living event.

John Howard Lawson, Theory and Technique of Playwriting

Written by nevalalee

September 26, 2014 at 8:52 am

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