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The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) [Paperback]

Will Dunne
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 15, 2009 0226172546 978-0226172545

Moss Hart once said that you never really learn how to write a play; you only learn how to write this play. Crafted with that adage in mind, The Dramatic Writer’s Companion is designed to help writers explore their own ideas in order to develop the script in front of them. No ordinary guide to plotting, this handbook starts with the principle that character is key. “The character is not something added to the scene or to the story,” writes author Will Dunne. “Rather, the character is the scene. The character is the story.”

Having spent decades working with dramatists to refine and expand their existing plays and screenplays, Dunne effortlessly blends condensed dramatic theory with specific action steps—over sixty workshop-tested exercises that can be adapted to virtually any individual writing process and dramatic script. Dunne’s in-depth method is both instinctual and intellectual, allowing writers to discover new actions for their characters and new directions for their stories.

Dunne’s own experience is a crucial element of this guide. His plays have been selected by the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center for three U.S. National Playwrights Conferences and have earned numerous honors, including a Charles MacArthur Fellowship, four Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards, and two Drama-Logue Playwriting Awards. Thousands of individuals have already benefited from his workshops, and The Dramatic Writer’s Companion promises to bring his remarkable creative method to an even wider audience.

Frequently Bought Together

The Dramatic Writer's Companion: Tools to Develop Characters, Cause Scenes, and Build Stories (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing) + The Art and Craft of Playwriting + The Playwright's Guidebook: An Insightful Primer on the Art of Dramatic Writing
Price for all three: $39.06

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews


“Will Dunne has taken everything he knows from the powerful dual standpoints of an award-winning playwright and a master teacher to create the book we’ve been waiting for. It’s all there—from every angle and every perspective—how to bring fascinating, fully-developed characters in conflict out into the light and onto the stage.”

(Susan Stauter, artistic director, San Francisco Unified School District 2009-01-30)

“Will Dunne mixes an artist’s imagination and intuition with a teacher’s knowledge of the craft of dramatic writing. It is an irresistible combination, producing a book which is simultaneously astute and imaginative. . . . No one can teach anyone to become a dramatic writer. But it is possible to learn how to improve your writing skills. It is possible to be provoked into thinking differently, into adding different colours and dimensions to your ideas, to extend the range of images in your head, to startle your imagination; in short, to be inspired into trying new approaches and methods. The Dramatic Writer’s Companion has the potential to do all of that for a writer.”

(May-Brit Akerholt, award-winning dramaturg 2009-01-30)

“A breath of fresh air. Whether you’re working on your first play or your fortieth, preparing a first draft or polishing up a finished piece, The Dramatic Writer’s Companion offers challenging, thought-provoking exercises rather than formulaic ‘how-to’ solutions. This is the kind of book that not only makes plays stronger; it makes writers stronger as well.”

(Jeni Mahoney, artistic director, Seven Devils Playwrights Conference�and playwri 2009-01-30)

“The practical genius of Will Dunne’s writing lessons proved invaluable to me in the development of the script for my own film, Mean Creek. I have read many books on scriptwriting, most a bunch of intellectual blather about themes and structure, whereas Will’s approach to writing is grounded in specific and useful exercises that a writer can actually employ at the moment of creation.” —Jacob Estes, recipient of the 2005 John Cassavetes Award, Film Independent’s 20th Spirit Awards for his film Mean Creek

(Jacob Estes 2009-01-30)

“Will Dunne lays out all the right questions with great precision and elegance. In the process he coolly demystifies all the dramaturgical demons; they become nothing more than the routine technical challenges faced by any craftsman.”

(Dennis J. Reardon, professor emeritus of playwriting, Indiana University 2009-01-30)

“Will Dunne meets the writer on his or her own terms, eye to eye. Unique, ambitious, and comprehensive, The Dramatic Writer’s Companion contains practical writing exercises underscored by well-developed dramatic theory.” —Art Borreca, head of Playwrights Workshop and Dramaturgy Program, University of Iowa

(Art Borreca 2009-01-30)

In his new handbook for writers Dunne adheres to the idea that character development is essential to telling a story. . . . Dunne employs his wealth of experience as the current resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, a Charles MacArthur Fellowship honoree, a former O’Neill Theatre Center dramaturg and an award-winning author of such plays as How I Became an Interesting Person, Love and Drowning, and Hotel Desperado to give writers a blueprint on how to examine their ideas in depth in order to develop their plays and screenplays.”

(July Samelson 2009-06-01) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Will Dunne is currently a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, where he develops plays and teaches workshops. He also has led over fifteen hundred workshops through his San Francisco program, served as a dramaturg at the O’Neill, and twice attended the Australian National Playwrights Conference as guest instructor. His plays, which include How I Became an Interesting Person and Hotel Desperado, have been presented in Russia, Australia, and Croatia as well as in the U.S.

Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (April 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226172546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226172545
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,548 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Will Dunne is a Resident Playwright at Chicago Dramatists (September 2006 - September 2015) where he is now developing plays and teaching classes. Through his association with Chicago Dramatists, his short comedy DEEP GARDENS was presented at Chicago's Second City in the summer of 2006. More recent Chicago area productions include THE ASCENSION OF CARLOTTA at the 16th Street Theatre (2008), HOW I BECAME AN INTERESTING PERSON at Chicago Dramatists (2009), TWO MEN ON A TRAIN PLATFORM JUST BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE at Artistic Home (2012), IN THE DARK at Intuit (2012), LOVE AND DROWNING at the 16th Street Theatre (2012), and THE ROPER at The Den Theatre (2014).

In the 35-year history of the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center under the Artistic Direction of Lloyd Richards, Mr. Dunne is one of only five playwrights to be selected three consecutive times for the U.S. National Playwrights Conference. HOW I BECAME AN INTERESTING PERSON, LOVE AND DROWNING, and HOTEL DESPERADO were each one of ten plays chosen annually from about 1,500 submissions nationwide for presentation at the O'Neill Center.

HOW I BECAME AN INTERESTING PERSON received a Charles MacArthur Fellowship awarded by the O'Neill and founded by Helen Hayes for outstanding comedy that "exemplifies the comic irreverent spirit of Charles MacArthur." The play also was presented as an international selection at the Australian National Playwrights Conference in Canberra, New South Wales, and in a Croatian translation at the National Theatre of Istria in Pula, Croatia. HOTEL DESPERADO was translated into Russian by the Moscow Theatre Union and presented as the international selection at its 10th annual festival of new plays in Schelykovo, Russia.

Mr. Dunne has twice been a finalist for the Heideman Award at the Actors Theatre of Louisville for his short plays MOONRISE and GOOD MORNING, ROMEO. U.S. productions of his work -- such as ELEVENTH HOUR, I MARRIED A WEREWOLF, BETWEEN QUAKES, and THE BRIDGE -- have received four Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards, two DramaLogue Playwriting Awards, and a Best-of-Year mention from the San Francisco Examiner. His toll-taker play THE BRIDGE also was selected as a project of the 50-Year Celebration of the Golden Gate Bridge.

His playwriting background is supplemented by years of acting, directing, producing, and teaching. Since 1988, Mr. Dunne has led more than sixteen hundred dramatic writing workshops through his independent program (Will Dunne Dramatic Writing Workshops) which continues to meet monthly in the San Francisco Bay Area and through Chicago Dramatists. He has attended the U.S. National Playwrights Conference as a dramaturg and the Australian National Playwrights Conference as a guest playwriting instructor. In addition, Mr. Dunne has served as a juror for Marin Arts Council playwriting grants in the Bay Area.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Belongs on every dramatist's shelf April 27, 2009
I can't say enough about this book! The most useful book on dramatic writing I've come across--including Syd Field and Lajos Egri. It's perfect for experienced writers looking for exercises and analytical tools to help with rewrites; but it's also ideal for anyone first learning the craft. It can be used as either a how-to book, or a reference manual. My favorite feature is a troubleshooting guide at the end called "Fixing Common Script Problems." Each section gives you the problem ("Not enough conflict," "Main character too passive,"etc.), suggests how to approach it, then points to exercises in the book to help fix it. That section alone is worth the price of the book! Every serious playwright and screenwriter should own this book.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly, the book to beat! September 24, 2009
The product description here on Amazon, plus the preview I saw in Google Books, convinced me that Will Dunne's book could be worth something in the sea of oh-so-many fiction writing books. Boy, was I wrong. "The Dramatic Writer's Companion" is not just worth something--it's simply the most comprehensive set of brainstorming exercises any storyteller needs to thoroughly flesh out a story.

It doesn't teach you writing per se. What it does is encourage you to explore the potential of your idea. Do you have a concept but hard-pressed to create a story for it? "The Dramatic Writer's Companion" can help.

Every step of the story development process is covered, whether you just have a core idea, or if you already have a glitch-laden draft that needs ironing out. Through questions and straightforward commentary, author Will Dunne encourages you to THINK and DIG DEEP. If you're serious about coming up with a well-rounded dramatic story, then this is the book to beat. Avoid this book if you're looking for shortcuts.

In other words, this book wants to make sure that you know your story like the proverbial back of your hand--inside and out, up and down, side to... you get the picture.

The book starts with a character, with the objective of making this character as three-dimensional as possible, as well as exploring the aspects of this character that could inspire dramatic action. The book then brings in the other characters and helps you establish the kind of character relationships that fuel a dramatic story.

Moving forward, the book then provides exercises for scene building, defining what a scene is and what it's supposed to do, and how characters influence scenes.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Every Writer Needs May 17, 2009
After years of writing using only a (often slow and laborious) trial and error method, I have finally discovered a book that has stream-lined the writing process. The exercises in Mr. Dunne's book not only provide a writer with a much stronger foundation with which to begin his or her plays (novels, short-stories, screenplays, etc.), they provide a variety of solutions for overcoming almost any writing-related obstacle that come up. Whether it's flat characters, lack of conflict, or the dreaded "what happens next," The Dramatic Writer's Companion offers a solution for them all. This is definitely a book that any writer who is serious about getting his or her work in front of an audience needs to read (over and over).
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for plays and film! August 13, 2009
By Clare
Buy this book even if you're writing a novel!

Especially, buy it if you're a bit sick of books that endlessly go on about structuring "their" way, or include endless forms to fill out hoping that you'll have enough data to forge into a novel at the end of it. This book is not a "program" or a "method", or a step-by-step process. What it is is a series of extremely insightful and thought-provoking exercises that are innovative, fun, sometimes unexpected, and that really get you to understand "what precisely is the story that I want to tell?" and how you can improve your telling of it. Because it doesn't go step by step, you can pick and choose what you feel you need - if you're not sure, there's a "troubleshooting" guide in the back to steer you towards exercises that are most likely to help.

This is not one of those books that presents the author's take on myth, either. You can of course use any other book you like along with this, or none at all. What it does is get you to go much deeper into your characters and themes and explore connections between them, what works and doesn't work, how you can make things better. I experienced it as causing an almost "intuitive-feeling" process of understanding how to craft a story better. Though I think this will stay with me to some extent (in other words, it's been a genuine learning experience), I am anticipating with pleasure and excitement using it in other projects.

It would be impossible for me to recommend this book more highly..
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Attention Writers Everywhere! You need this book! July 20, 2009
Whether you're writing novels, plays, or short stories, this book contains marvelous tools to help build dramatic action, develop characters and refine your story. You'll discover many ways to explore and analyze your work through examination of conflict, objectives, action, and characters. Not the usual how-to book that talks at you with boring narrative, this makes you look at your work like you've never done before. With new discoveries in every chapter, you'll do well to keep this book by your side!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Good guide
Very well organised guide with adequate exercises. Step by step progressing, and giving really good examples how to create and develop a script.
Published 1 month ago by Risto Tuominen
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and useful
As an aspiring playwright, I find myself constantly revisiting this book to help myself refine my ideas. It's not so much a how-to guide, but more of a reference. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joshua Dill
5.0 out of 5 stars Best freaking book for playwrights EVER
I love this book SO MUCH and will never attempt rewrites without it by my side. Once I found it, I sold off half my other playwriting books, because I can't really imagine needing... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Idea If You Are Getting Stumped.
I highly recommend this book to beginning writers. I have found it to be very helpful with creating my characters for my books.
Published 10 months ago by jancat
4.0 out of 5 stars Great guide for writers!
This is a great guide to help you draw out your world, characters and story. However, I don't recommend the Kindle Edition because the layout better suited as a physical book. Read more
Published 11 months ago by MASTERLUX
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent tool kit for writers!
I found this book to be extraordinarily helpful. It helped me go to a much deeper place as a writer. The exercises are tailored to address specific issues in a script. Read more
Published 12 months ago by carey crim
5.0 out of 5 stars The best support for the hard work of writing
It will amaze you how simple the exercises are in Will Dunne's "The Dramatic Writer's Companion" but how they deepen the story you want to tell. It is my bible. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Charles G. Oconnor
5.0 out of 5 stars I owe a debt of gratitude to Will Dunne
The Dramatic Writers Companion saved me this year. I had written a play for Rochester, NY's first fringe festival, but I didn't feel it was the best I could do. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Nina E. Alvarez
5.0 out of 5 stars Free your writing mind
This is not a primer on how to write a play, it is a compilation of exercises that focus your writing. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Jim Lynch
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Stage/Screenwriting Resource
The Dramatic Writer's Companion is a must-have volume for the playwright/screenwriter's bookshelf.
Solve countless writing dilemmas from its wealth of well-crafted solutions.
Published on June 8, 2012 by J. L.
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