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Walking on Fire

The Shaping Force of Emotion in Writing Drama

Jim Linnell

Publication Year: 2011

In this bold new way of looking at dramatic structure, Jim Linnell establishes the central role of emotional experience in the conception, execution, and reception of plays. Walking on Fire: The Shaping Force of Emotion in Writing Drama examines dramatic texts through the lens of human behavior to identify the joining of event and emotion in a narrative, defined by Linnell as emotional form.

Effectively building on philosophy, psychology, and critical theory in ways useful to both scholars and practitioners, Linnell unfolds the concept of emotional form as the key to understanding the central shaping force of drama. He highlights the Dionysian force of human emotion in the writer as the genesis for creative work and articulates its power to determine narrative outcomes and audience reaction.

Walking on Fire contains writing exercises to open up playwrights to the emotional realities and challenges of their work. Additionally, each chapter offers case studies of traditional and nonlinear plays in the known canon that allow readers to evaluate the construction of these works and the authors’ practices and intentions through an xamination of the emotional form embedded in the central characters’ language, thoughts, and behaviors. The plays discussed include Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Athol Fugard’s “MASTER HAROLD”. . .and the boys, Donald Margulies’s The Loman Family Picnic, Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America

Walking on Fire
opens up new conversations about content and emotion for writers and offers exciting answers to the questions of why we make drama and why we connect to it. Linnell’s userfriendly theory and passionate approach create a framework for understanding the links between the writer’s work in creating the text, the text itself, and the audience’s engagement.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-8

When I think of how this book began and was shaped, I start in a place. That place is the porch of my house beside the Rio Grande, south of Albuquerque. It is the late spring 1999. Two men, colleagues in the Dramatic Writing Program at the University of New Mexico, sit down...

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pp. 9-21

I come to this task, a professor and director/writer who has braved the crosswinds of the university and the classroom. The goals of my dramatic-writing students range from seeking an undergraduate education to a professional graduate degree or a playwriting career. I also...

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1. The Seeds of Emotional Form

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pp. 22-34

Perhaps it is because I came of age in the sixties that I don’t consider Dionysus simply a quaint antiquarian construct. I saw it in the streets of Berkeley, I felt it in myself: the pull to run to the mountain to know what wasn’t taught in the classroom, to call the god forth, to become one, to...

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2. The Fire Hose and the Nozzle

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pp. 35-59

When writers think about conflict, they often start with two sides clashing over some prize, two people arguing, choosing what can easily become a cartoon conflict as in, “He’s bad, he’s good, bang, slam, see them fight.” Conflict without the psychological dimension used by emotional...

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3. The End Is Where You Started

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pp. 60-80

Is it possible to exaggerate the importance of endings? Endings exist only in the light shone by a beginning and a middle. The writer knows he has to stop at some point and write, “The End.” Endings come in many ways: life ends for others and for us; relationships end between...

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4. Collaborating with Calamity

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pp. 81-100

For the writer, there is no visibility without the audience. The relationship between audience and drama completes the circuit of emotional form among writer, text, performer, and audience. Emotional form shapes the impact and meaning of the dramatic narrative and shapes the audience’s...

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5. The Practice of Fire Walking

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pp. 101-120

We’ve sought the signs of emotional form through the processes of writing and viewing drama. Emotional form is something well known to writers, a key element of their lives, and how they make and respond to stories. We all register the constant ticking of emotional expression,...


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pp. 121-124


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pp. 125-130

Author Bio

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pp. 131-132

Back Cover

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9780809390663
E-ISBN-10: 0809390663
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330478
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330474

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 3 B/w halftones
Publication Year: 2011