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Dramatists Toolkit,The Craft of the Working Playwright [Paperback]

Jeffrey Sweet
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 1, 1993 0435086294 978-0435086299 Later Printing

In The Dramatist's Toolkit, playwright and Backstage columnist Jeff Sweet offers an intensive and practical guide to being a working playwright. In this informative guide, Sweet discusses such matters as:

  • The building blocks of playwriting
  • How characters relate to one another
  • The differences and similarities between musicals and plays
  • Screenwriting vs. playwriting
  • and much more!

Jeff Sweet offers guidance for the beginning playwright and advice for the seasoned professional.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jeffrey Sweet's plays - including Porch, The Value of Names, and Routed - have been presented off-Broadway, internationally, and in a variety of regional and developmental theatres. His American Enterprises won the American Theatre Critics Association Award for play-writing. His book for the musical What About Luv? won the Outer Critics Circle Award, and he is the author of the book and co-author (with composer Melissa Manchester) of the lyrics for the musical I Sent a Letter to My Love. Sweet has written drama, sitcom, miniseries, and TV movies for ABC, NBC, and CBS. His work has won the Writers Guild of America Award and been nominated twice for the Emmy.A popular teacher and author of many newspaper and magazine articles, Sweet is also the proud father of Jonathan Sweet.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Heinemann Drama; Later Printing edition (November 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0435086294
  • ISBN-13: 978-0435086299
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #500,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Aside from writing scripts (plays, musicals, TV stuff, the odd screenplay), I write about writing, teach writing, run workshops in improvisation, occasionally direct, and sometimes perform. It is my great pleasure to serve on the Council of the Dramatists Guild, to have a long record of working in various Chicago theatres, to be a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and to be an alum of New Dramatists. I live in New York, but frequently travel to participate in productions of my stuff or to teach guest workshops at universities and professional schools.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A worthwhile (if somewhat discouraging) addition September 15, 2000
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had a divided reaction to this book. On the positive side (and most of my reaction was positive), Sweet offers some wonderful insights into the profession of the dramatist, as well as some very welcome discussions on how to avoid common traps and pitfalls. He also offers some excellent and often shrewdly humorous analyses of the mistakes made even by greats like Shakespeare, Miller, and Simon (And know what? He's right). In addition, in the face of today's too-common dismissal of musical theatre as inconsequential, it's refreshing to hear Sweet's enthusiastic defense of such Sondheim gems as "Sweeney Todd" and "Forum." The book is well-written in a light, conversational manner that makes it a lot of fun to read.
On the down side, I was really, really disappointed in Sweet's opening chapter, which still casts a pall over "Dramatist's Toolkit" for me as a whole. It's unfortunate that such an otherwise helpful book nevertheless opens with a blunt, narrow, and chapter-long definition of who should attempt the life of a playwright (the journalist) -- and who shouldn't (the prose writer). As this is supposed to be a general "toolkit" to assist any attempting the art of the dramatist, Sweet's dismissal of a huge number of writers who do not meet his criteria for success is doubly disappointing.
I'm not knocking journalists (I am one), but Sweet's starting-gate assumption that a versatile writer can't straddle more than one genre surprised and disappointed me, especially in the face of such obvious successful exceptions as William Goldman, Larry McMurtry, W.B. Yeats, John Steinbeck, and many more.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By walter
Sweet's book is a valuable compilation of tools for playwrights. It contains original concepts, not just a rehash of other playwriting books. Negotiation over objects, high and low context dialogue, violating rituals, the unspoken concept and characters speaking with different voices are all extremely useful tools which have changed my writing for the better. After reading "Toolkit," I went back and reread Pinter and Albee and Ibsen and others. Sure enough, they utilized these tools in their plays. I just never recognized them before. This book is a quick and entertaining read - probably about two hours. But the concepts have to be practiced. The only thing Sweet doesn't do in this book is write your play for you.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST BOOK ON PLAYWRITING I'VE READ September 30, 1998
By A Customer
I like to read, and I like to write plays. The not-too-surprising result is that I've read a lot of books on playwriting. Jeff Sweet's The Dramatist's Toolkit is by far the best I've read. With most books on playwriting, I count myself lucky to learn one or two tips I find useful. In the Dramatist's Toolkit, I marked ten interesting points in the first three chapters alone. Sweet is extraordinarily gifted in analyzing why something works in a play and presenting the analysis in a readily understandable way. His discussions of the difference between literature and a play script, the need for audience participation in a play (and how to create it), the use of objects, the transformation or destruction of objects, and the way in which the use of space can illuminate different aspects of a play are all right on the money. While I would recommend this book strongly to anyone thinking of writing a play, I do think it is especially useful to the working playwright struggling to solve a specific problem in a specific script. Just as a wrench is most useful if you have a nut to loosen, and only a paperweight (or blunt instrument) otherwise, The Dramatist's Toolkit is most useful when a deadline looms and a scene just won't jell. If that happens to you, a quick reading (or re-reading) of this book will surely provide several ideas worth trying.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Basics with Clarity, Brevity, and Wit January 29, 2000
I teach college playwriting, so I've read lots of these books. My ideal book for use in the classroom (and for my own review as a writer) is one that strikes a balance between clearly describing the basic principles, providing inspiration and courage for the journey ahead, and leaving enough time to actually write! Jeff Sweet's "The Dramatist's Toolkit" is my current choice. This book introduces a few especially useful tools. It also provides enough biz illustrations to make the beginner feel in safe hands and make the road-weary glad for Sweet's wise and witty companionship. I recently spoke with a dramaturg who said that Sweet's chapter on Ethics was the best writing she'd seen on that subject. I heartily agree. The final sentence in the Ethics chapter is well worth becoming a calligraphied, fancy-framed plaque posted high above the callboard for future generations to hide in their hearts.
Jeff Barker, Professor of Theatre and Playwright in Residence, Northwestern College, Orange City, Iowa
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great text for your actual writing March 16, 2004
Its brevity aside, the most striking feature of Jeffrey Sweet's The Dramatist's Toolkit is that it's not written like most playwriting texts. Instead of ponderously essaying Aristotle (though if you want a good analysis of Poetics, I'd recommend Hatcher's Art & Craft of Playwriting), Sweet cuts to the chase of negotiations and subtext. His is the only book on playwriting that I've ever seen to really get to the heart of creating scenes (and the better part of the book focuses on just this).
Because of this emphasis, this is not going to be the book you should refer to for structure; again, Hatcher is strong there, as is Gordon Farrell's Power of the Playwright's Vision (the only text I've seen to give numerous structural breakdowns). However, Sweet's advice - taken well, and with the usual pinch of salt - is very liberating to the writer who's been struggling against formulaic playwriting texts.
Sweet's book is worth its cover price based solely on its discussions of negotiations, which really are eye-openers as to how subtext really works. His section on exposition, with a discussion on high and low contexts, is likewise strong. The book is great as a reference while doing your actual writing, just to remind you of things you can really make work.
Now, Sweet's a bit brief (but powerful) in this book, but makes up for it in the sequel, Solving Your Script. The latter is a reinforcement of the ideas from The Dramatist's Toolkit, with enlightening, well annotated examples. Together, they make up a powerful combination addressing what is so rarely touched on in playwriting books: how to actually write powerful, subtle scenes. Combine them with a couple of good structural books like Hatcher or Farrell, and you've got a much better basis than most of the formulaic texts.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book for beginning playwright
This is an excellent book for anyone trying to learn the craft. It exceeded by expectations and was a pleasure to read. It had easy to understand practical advice. Read more
Published on June 9, 2009 by Frost Liederbach
2.0 out of 5 stars for newcomers only
This book is a fair introduction for a newcomer. But when I say newcomer, I mean a newcomer to writing, not to playwriting. Read more
Published on March 8, 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Give credit where credit is "do."
My advice is to skip this book and go directly to Jeffrey Hatcher's or Louis Catron's, if you haven't already. Read more
Published on December 29, 2003 by JackOfMostTrades
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite....
...books on writing plays...this one, as well as "Backwards and Forwards," have changed me as a playwright. I still have a long way to go, but Mr. Read more
Published on October 24, 2001 by Wretched Man
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dramatist's Toolkit :The Craft of the Working Playwright
This book is wonderful. It distills so much that I wanted to know about theatre plays. But, the title should have been longer. It should have added "... Read more
Published on August 28, 2001 by Morgan Parker
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable lessons based on practical truths
I've had the pleasure of studying with Jeff and he's very adept at transcribing his lessons to an easily understood distillation of basic precepts regarding dramatic writing. Read more
Published on August 25, 2001 by THOMAS J VOYTKO
1.0 out of 5 stars I did not find this book helpful
THE DRAMATIST'S TOOLKIT was not helpful to me. I have read other books on playwriting which detailed the process in much more specific detail. Read more
Published on March 26, 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars Wrote my previous review on a bad writing day ;-)
Just a quick note to rephrase my previous post on this book from September.
Upon reconsideration, I think my first review of this book (especially in light of how much I... Read more
Published on November 28, 2000 by Angela Mitchell
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful, entertaining, conversational
Only a handful of books on playwriting are written by people who have actually written successful plays. Read more
Published on February 7, 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars The best playwriting text currently available.
The great thing about this book is in the title. It really is a toolkit - an assortment of techniques, craft tips and ideas for helping to make scenes work onstage. Read more
Published on January 30, 2000 by Michael Ladenson
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