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The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  2,317 ratings  ·  185 reviews
Among the many "how-to" playwriting books that have appeared over the years, there have been few that attempt to analyze the mysteries of play construction. Lajos Egri's classic, The Art of Dramatic Writing, does just that, with instruction that can be applied equally well to a short story, novel, or screenplay.
Examining a play from the inside out, Egri starts with the
Paperback, 305 pages
Published February 15th 1972 by Touchstone (first published 1942)
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Darkemeralds Hi Pippa. If I've read La Parure it was ages ago in French class, but I agree with you that a well-constructed story could present different premises…moreHi Pippa. If I've read La Parure it was ages ago in French class, but I agree with you that a well-constructed story could present different premises to different people.

Often in reading these relative prescriptive writing books (I'm giving myself a homemade MFA in creative writing right now by immersing myself in Shawn Coyne, Larry Brooks, Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler, Libbie Hawker...) I feel like the author is forcing their system onto a work, making it fit. Egri is no different.

However, the exercise of finding in my own work what Egri calls the Premise (which is kinda-sorta what Coyne calls the Controlling Idea and Brooks calls the Concept, and OMG *pulls hair*) -- that is, what *I* think the Premise is -- has helped me tighten the story up, nail it down, eliminate excess, etc.

Someone else might read my story (wouldn't that be great?) and take a different core meaning from it. But if I've done my job, the reader will take "my" meaning from it too.

PS Hi, total stranger on Goodreads. :D(less)

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Sep 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was introduced to this book by Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER) when I tried, unsuccessfully, to enroll in a screenwriting course he was teaching one quarter at UCLA Film School. About 50 students crammed into a room meant to accommodate ten, and the first thing he said was: "I'm not admitting any undergrads into this class. (I was an undergrad, so I was already out in the first five minutes.) However, I'm going to tell you a few things if you ARE an undergrad film student.

"First, if you want to
Apr 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Abigail by: Amy Warren
After reading this incredibly insightful, incredibly lucid book, I really feel that it's a crime that (1) so few people have read this book, and (2) there are so many bad plays (novels, etc.) out there. And it's not even hard to understand! I didn't have to struggle to comprehend the advice or see why it works.

Lest you think I'm overstating the value of the work, I shall explain it to you in three easy steps.
1. What premise are you trying to prove? (This is not theme or plot summary, but the
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In some ways this is a very basic book. But sometimes it is good to be reminded of the simple principles that make book or a play interesting. Good writing may be complex in that it can be read again and again providing newer levels of meaning with each reading. But it need not be complicated. A great book can weave it's complexity around a simple premise. Jealousy ultimately destroy the lover and the beloved may be what Othello is about but the play is so much richer than that, don't you think? ...more
Sarah Cypher
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
If there is one book I cite more than Strunk and White's classic The Elements of Style, it is Lajos Egri's relatively obscure gem. I happened upon it thanks to a writer-friend of a writer-friend who took one of James Frey's (no, not that James Frey, may his plagiarizing soul fly to a million little pieces) master classes in fiction. And yes, Egri will help you write a damn good novel.

The key is unity. Out of necessity, teachers of writing split the art of fiction writing into about five
Jul 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
I want to retract what I wrote before. This book makes some important points when it comes to structuring/developing dramatic stories around dynamic characters. I found the style (overly wordy and written in a contrived informal tone, as if the author is ushering you to some holy grail) confused more than it clarified and made the ideas hard to stomach. So Id say, read the first few paragraphs of each chapter to understand the concept Egris trying to illustrate, skim his explanations of plays ...more
Rick Royster
Apr 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the 2 or 3 best books i've ever read on writing, and i've read quite a few. Story by Robert McKee is very solid and a must read for film makers, but this book combined with Dara Marks inside story should be read, studied and read again. Everything you want to know about plot and character come together in this brilliant How-to masterpiece.
Chuck O'Connor
Mar 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a masterpiece of instruction.

Egri's approach is that of a naturalist and Socratic philosopher.

He bases his theory on observed phenomenon and allows illustration from example to prove his hypothesis. He then provides an approach using dialectics to encourage and challenge potential emotional resistance to the ideas.

The strongest and most exciting notion within this work is Egri's insistence on premise as the essential component for playwriting. My fledgling experience as a serious
Kunjila Mascillamani
This segment is for filmmakers or readers in general who would like to skip some reading. I am collecting books that are no fun to read and stating the essence of it here also telling you why you neednt read it. This time the book is Lajos Egris The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its basis in the creative interpretation of human motives.
Why you neednt read the whole book: It is boring. The writing is crap for a book that is telling us how to write a play. It is redundant. The style and format suck.
Mar 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: skimmed
For some reason, I thought this would help with writing poetry. (Then again, I look at my cat and hope that will help with writing poetry.)

However, for a gutsy stance on how plays work, this is the place. It was (honestly) news to me that a play needs a "premise" and that you could boil Ibsen's Ghosts down to "The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children."

Do poems need premises, too? Perhaps much less dramatic premises? Something like, "It is fun to say the letter 's' a lot."

Books with
Melissa Ellis
Jun 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Lots of good information for writers here, some of it obviously geared to beginners but very helpful to experienced writers, as well.
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Tremendous resource for character development and orchestration, scene and conflict.
Joel Miller
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I just reread this book after many years. Its perhaps the best book on dramatic writing I have ever read. It puts all the structural approaches like Sid Field, McKee et al to shame frankly.
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
There is some really great advice in this book for writers but the author comes off a little too pretentious at times.
Benedict Fenix
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely the best resource to learn writing enjoyable fiction.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
A book that may be good for the beginners, but since the author assumes that all of the readers are newbies, the more advanced writers may find it to be boring and shallow.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: creative-writing
Nearly useless as far as I'm concerned. Whatever good ideas are to be found here are lost in the author's horrendous repetition and 'droning' tone-of-voice. There just a 'shrillness' to what he's propounding. He's just way too strident and insistent; far too frantic for his appraisal (an appraisal by the way, of what is a very difficult subject) to be taken as the foremost one in his field. What makes this unlikely in the reader's mind? Well. We're forced to follow a never-ending string of ...more
Sci-(Fi) Nerd Mario
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
For character development, character formation and recognition of style faults tremendously useful helper

Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

With his works "Dramatic Writing" and "Literary Writing," Egri has created two profound and detail-by-detail guides that illustrate the creative process, clearly describing how to fail or shine. In the present "Dramatic Writing," the focus is primarily on the dramaturgy of the theater,
Hannah Spencer
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-for-school
For me, the first chapter on Premise was the greatest revelation (and there were many). I never knew what a premise was before, but not it makes total sense. Even your creative writing needs a thesis, something you are trying to prove. One needs a premise that conveys character, conflict, and resolution. For instance, ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction. This premise indicts a ruthlessly ambitious character whose attempt to gain something (conflict) destroys himself (resolution)... ...more
One of the books often cited in other works on writing fiction, and after reading it I can see why. This is a great exploration of the structuring of successful stories. It focuses on playwriting, but almost everything the author says applies equally well to writing novels, short stories, or screenplays.

Essentially, Egri explores the psychology of both characters and audience and how they interact. He devotes quite a few very short chapters to specific and detailed aspects of storytelling, and
Merlin P. Mann
Nov 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Merlin P. by: Troels Chr. Jakobsen
Fantastic book on writing. Not as slick and accessible as McKee, yet that only adds to the author's high degree of integrity. His points are still sharp and very well argumented - the best for me was how he kills of the distinction between "character-driven" and "plot-driven". All good plots come from good characters, i.e. one does not make sense without the other - and his analysis of different plays is extremely convincing.

Some passages were too repetitive or slightly overemphasizing the
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cannot speak highly enough about this book!

Ergi has valid - perhaps in some instances even unique - arguments and observations about playwriting and holds the whole artform up to very high standards. He calls theme "premise" and is very straightforward about his belief that charcaters must drive conflict, but the result is a solid demystification of dramtic writing.

However, he is a bit aloof throughout the book, which, personally, I found strangely appealing.
Feb 26, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, solid advice, but hard for me to get through. I didn't like having to plow through examples of bad writing to get to the examples of good writing. It did help to have many of his points illustrated through several famous plays, such as Hedda Gabler and Macbeth.

I started this with a 4-star rating, but given that it took me over six months to force myself to finish it, I had to downgrade it for not keeping my interest.
Jul 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
As a writer, I learned a lot from this book. The author's insistence on character over plot (because character drives the plot) and his emphasis on starting with a premise are two principles that will save my writing. This is a must for writers of plays, screenplays, novels and short stories.
Jun 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I read this book, I found that some advices were a bit outdated. That is why it is not enough to just read this book, if someone wants to learn dramatic writing.

Still, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to create round and unforgettable characters.
Mar 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers
This book breaks down what makes dramatic writing great. You can write badly all you want for your own benefit, but if you want to create characters and stories with depth, read this book.
Dec 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: novelists, screenwriters, playwrights
seed of drama = conflict

[ this was the textbook at both ucla & sc when spielberg, copolla, lucas, etc. were at film school ]
May 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quick and easy to read and the best single general handbook for creating stories I've found. There are other good ones out there but few of them are so concise / useful.
Akhil Jain
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My fav quotes (not a review):

If Balzac, De Maupassant, O. Henry, hadnt learned to write, they might have become inveterate liars, instead of great writers.

Frugality leads to waste. The first part of this premise suggests charactera frugal character. The second part, leads to, suggests conflict, and the third part, waste, suggests the end of the play. Let us see if this is so. Frugality leads to waste. The premise suggests a frugal person who, in his eagerness to save his money, refuses to pay
Steven Clark
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I read this book many years ago, and when I asked one of my theatre professors about it, he admitted Egri had some good points 'although sometimes he's crazy as hell.' Two years ago, when I won a screenplay award in my home state one of my prizes was a new edition of this book. I recently re-read it. Egri's book has its problems. He's very repetitious, and a lot of his analysis could be summed up in a page instead of three or four. He's strongest when analyzing plays, and uses A Doll's House, ...more
Liz Prather
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-reading
I had seen this book referenced and quoted in a variety of contemporary books on writing, and even though many of the references and his language is clearly dated (the original text was published in 1942), I loved his clear examination of the necessity of writers to not only know, but understand and interpret the motives of their fictional characters. This is not an academic book or a book of theory, but a guide that delves into the cornerstone element of drama, namely people and their inner and ...more
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Lajos N. Egri (born June 4, 1888; died February 7, 1967) was the author of The Art of Dramatic Writing, which is widely regarded as one of the best works on the subject of playwriting, though its teachings have since been adapted for the writing of short stories, novels, and screenplays[...]

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