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What We're Thinkin'

Smatterings, Ramblings & General Chaos

RULES, RULES...RULES?

Perhaps a much better analogy to dramatic structure/theory vs. drama is music theory vs. music.


I don’t have to know about structure to be a playwright, and learning about structure in and of itself won’t make me a playwright, but knowing the language of dramatic structure can support my writing and help me communicate with my fellow theatre artists.



I always enjoy discussing dramatic structure and its importance (or not) to developing plays.


Sitting out in the sun today I realized that when I say "dramatic structure" I'm really talking about dramatic theory.


Dramatic Theory, as defined by the sponsored definition of one google search is, "an attempt to form theories about theatre and drama." (I like that word attempt.) I realized that a much better analogy to dramatic structure/theory vs drama then, is music theory vs music.


Both are attempts to put a language to the art. Neither language is perfect because they are attempts to name and define what is probably undefinable.


You don’t have to know one thing about music theory to write good music. The Beatles are the most famous example of that among many. Likewise, you don’t have to know a thing about dramatic structure or dramatic theory to write an excellent play.


In music certain patterns sound lively, and certain patterns sound melancholy. Names have been put to these and the upbeat ones are “major keys” and the sadder ones are “minor keys”.


More names get created and before you know it people are talking about the circle of fifths and triad chords. In drama certain scenes are informative and some have heightened excitement. We come up with words like exposition and climax.


In music, I can develop a guitar solo all by myself through trial and error and come up with something excellent. But if I know every note on the fretboard, and I know which notes are compatible and which are not, I’ve probably saved myself time. In drama, I can write a scene any way I want and come up with a good one. But if I know that a scene with a conflict might hold attention better than one that doesn’t, I’ve probably saved myself a few drafts.


Theory is also a language that can be used. If a singer tells the piano player she'll be singing in the key of C, the piano player knows the range he'll be playing without hearing one note. If a director tells a group of actors, "this is the inciting incident", the actors know where they are in the story before reading a word.


So to me, the relationship of dramatic structure to playwriting is similar to that of music theory to music.


I don’t have to know about structure to be a playwright, and learning about structure in and of itself won’t make me a playwright, but knowing the language of dramatic structure can support my writing and help me communicate with my fellow theatre artists.

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