- The Blunt Playwright: An Introduction to Playwriting, and: Playwriting, Brief and Brilliant
The two books covered in this review, Clem Martini’s The Blunt Playwright and Julie Jensen’s Playwriting, Brief and Brilliant, and will not revolutionize the world of playwriting. Like many praxis texts on the subject, both follow a fairly traditional course, adhering to Aristotelian principles and mimetic writing as the end-all, be-all of the dramatist’s profession. If one is looking for a text that will radically alter perspectives about playwriting, it will not be found here. That said, these texts both have something positive to offer.
Julie Jensen’s stated goal for penning Playwriting, Brief and Brilliant is to create the dramatist’s equivalent of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style—in essence, a no-nonsense handbook of the indisputable laws of playmaking designed for easy reference. She succeeds in brevity; the short book makes for a quick afternoon read. The style of the book is very conversational and direct; Jensen only gives you what you need to know and delivers it not unlike a Hollywood producer. The individual chapters are extremely short, often no longer than three to four pages.
Jensen shines in the second half of the book. Her practical advice to playwrights about making it in “the biz” and developing good writing habits is forged in the fires of her own struggles. Here, her direct style works: she tells it like it is. The short chapter about writer’s block is one of the most sobering and honest discussions of the subject I have ever read. Forgoing an extended interrogation into the causes of writer’s block, Jensen posits that the writer is simply not interested in what he/she is doing at that moment, or that the writer is trying to force material onto the page. While these ideas may not be ground-breaking, Jensen’s blunt and straightforward method forces the reader to take notice and examine what motivates writing.
Jensen takes a similar approach with the chapter titled “Marketing Your Play,” where with wisdom and brutal frankness she lays out the playwright’s job as a promoter of his or her work—something often overlooked in educational programs, which many would-be writers desperately need to hear. Budding writers commonly believe that procuring an agent is the end-all, be-all of the writer’s struggle to establish a career; Jensen effectively redirects this notion by explaining that an agent acts essentially as a lawyer, not an advertising firm. Her opinion on promotion and marketing could not be more succinct: “That is your job. That is your job. That is your job” (75). Both novice and experienced playwrights would do well to heed her advice in these chapters.
The reader may not find the first few chapters as useful as the latter ones. As with many playwriting texts, the first half of the book tackles Aristotle’s six elements of drama, and Jensen’s loyalty to mimetic writing becomes readily apparent. Those looking for an alternative to the time-honored approach of Aristotle and his descendents will not find it here. This is not particularly surprising: the Aristotelian model has proven itself to be both effective in practice and also conducive to the teaching of playwriting. What is lacking in Jensen’s book is an in-depth discussion as to why the Aristotelian model works, an omission that may prove to be too serious for some teachers of playwriting to accept when considering this book for a classroom text. This is excusable to an extent when considering Jensen’s goal in writing the book—“brief and brilliant.” More thorough theoretical discussions of playwriting praxis, such as that found in Smiley’s Playwriting: The Structure of Action, can be accessed with relative ease in numerous supplemental texts. [End Page 245]
Where Playwriting, Brief and Brilliant comes up short, Clem Martini...