Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Aristotle's Poetics - A Helpful Guide for Playwrights

Aristotle’s Poetics

Plays need the following six elements:

Action or Plot
--often what the audience remembers most
--Actions should cause a “reaction”
--“Activities” are simply dramatic “busy work” – (a fist fight, a shouting match, etc.)
--In shorter plays, focus on one main action (one act)
--Longer plays may have more than one action (two acts, three acts, etc.)
--Action should lead to a climax (a confrontation between the protagonist and

--Most important for a playwright
--Characters must keep an audience interested
--Characters should have a purpose and motivation to be effective in a scene or play
--Characters should “act”
--Give characters concrete (not abstract) goals
--Characters should change (become dynamic characters)
--Create characterization by what a character says and does; about what other characters
say about the character
--Your protagonist should be “struggling for something” (Pro-Agonize)
--Test out your characters: Are they interesting to YOU?

Thought or Idea (theme)
--Something of value for the audience to think about (often abstract)
--It is not the quality of the idea that matters most, but rather the quality of the
ideas depicted by the actions (i.e. character’s actions) of the play
--A play is short relatively, so ideas need not be grandiose and terribly complex
--Use your own personal/societal/spiritual concerns
--Failing that, use the audiences personal/societal/spiritual concerns
--Characters may state the idea overtly – in speeches, dialogue, directly to the audience
--Or the actions of the characters lead the audience to understand the theme
--Don’t (always) hit your audience over the head with the “idea” stick

Language, diction or verbal expression (dialogue)
--Good dialogue will tell the audience what it needs to know: the setting, time, period,
place, character, conflict, theme, etc.
--Allow language to emphasize the “verb” – allow it to be active
--Language must tell what has happened (exposition), what is happening (action), and
what may happen (a promise to the audience)

Music or song
--Not just for musicals, think about imagery, tone, alliteration, and the sounds of the
--Sometimes, the use of music can be very powerful or add to the conflict of the

Spectacle, image or visual adornment
--Whatever looks neat on stage (a sword duel, costumes, elaborate sets, any traveling
Broadway show…etc.)
--Bare stages are good for fewer distractions
--A lot of spectacle can make a badly written play better…slightly….

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