Friday, August 21, 2020

PACT - A Way to Look at Playwriting

 Sharing a bit of playwriting philosophy.

This is a paradigm, akin to the four humours of the body in some vague ways, but I call it Aspects of Plays. Even comes with a handy acronym--PACT. Simply put I believe (or more accurately I personally perceive) plays having four major Aspects, one of which is nearly always primary. One can get into which is secondary, etc. if you really want to but I'm focusing on just the Primary.

Also, a playwright often develops more than just one, many giving almost identical attention to more than one Aspect, sometimes all four.

Re-read that last paragraph again. It will save time.

The Aspects are:

, i.e. the actual events that make up what some call the "actiona" of the story. I would say Moliere and Ira Levin are two playwrights who develop this most strongly, the former to some extent because he had to, the second maybe more because of his genre. Frankly, the vast majority of the feedback I get is focused on this, in a very formulaic way that I find sometimes very tiresome. Yet for all that I do attempt to have strong plots. "Plot" is not bad but it can (and this is what some folks--often trained for tv or film--find absurd) be secondary or even tertiary.

is the feel of place, the "world" in which a play takes place. At heart I do feel Chekhov's great plays as well as most of August Wilson seem to me about their worlds more than anything else. I would go so far as to say these characters would be totally different, events utterly changed in you re-located these plays to another place and time. But this goes beyond time and place. It is also a sense of what is possible, and the "feeling" of the play's location. For example, are there women in the world of Waiting for Godot? Can one doubt there is a God in Murder at the Cathedral?

is the other area where I get the most feedback, but often (weirdly) for statistical reasons, i.e. the notion that if a character veers too far from the average or a stereotype this is a failure. Meh. Insights into questions I had not asked, though, that is a treasure! But yeah, some playwrights do focus on characters, such as Tennessee Williams and imho Edward Albee, sometimes Eugene O'Neill. Events happen but fundamentally because of the characters, often with precision based on extremely specific character details leading to decisions informed not but mere self interest but the full spectrum of a human personality.

on the other hand is the idea about which the play deals. Frankly Arthur Miller and Henrik Ibsen are pretty clear examples of this. But this also has two different modes. Some writers explore a Question while others prefer to focus on giving an Answer. Ben Johnson is clearly one of the latter, in that his plays are clearly teaching a specific lesson. Shakespeare on the other hand is the former--he does not tell the audience what to think but engages them in a situation which excites their imagination.

You may disagree over my assignment of these aspects to different writers and I won't argue the point. My reason for sharing this is to explain how I personally see plays, including my own, and hopefully such a framework may offer something useful.