Best Books for Aspiring Playwrights

Playwriting is a special kind of storytelling that requires different skills to other forms of writing.  When you are just starting out, it might seem hard to find advice and support, compared to the bigger and more visible communities of prose and poetry writers.    Here’s how Team Booko can help: if you have stories to tell, and want to tell them within the visual, visceral medium of performance, here are some resources to inspire and support your efforts.


Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman is fundamentally important to American culture because it is a gritty, poignant tragedy about the failure to attain the American Dream. During the final day of his life, Willy Loman (the Salesman of the title) came to the despairing conclusion that he will never achieve the success and recognition he desires.
Death of a Salesman explores themes of mental health, anti-capitalism, expectations  and self-worth – themes that are as relevant and relatable as ever, in our world with its ever-growing wealth gap, and impending economic turmoil.


A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun has special significance in the canon of American plays – it was the first play written by an African-American (and a young woman to boot) to appear on Broadway; and it depicted the emotional life of an African-American family in a gritty, realistic way.  It is often considered one of the best American plays ever.  It paved the way for more African-Americans to participate in Broadway, as playwrights, directors and even simply as audience members.  This story of the aspirations and struggles of an African-American family foretold the civil rights and feminist movements of the ‘60s, and in the shadow of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, A Raisin in the Sun still feels immediate  and relevant today. 


The RSC William Shakespeare: the Complete Works by William Shakespeare, and edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the most important writer and dramatist in the history of the English language. Remarkably, his plays are still performed regularly, and the influence of his work is still evident in contemporary writing. He broke new ground in terms of characterisation, plot development and language use, and he was highly skilful in the mixing of genres – for example, inserting comic characters into tragic plots.  The emotions and behaviours explored in his work are still considered relevant, and indeed timeless.  Let Shakespeare be an ongoing source of inspiration, by investing in this beautiful edition of the complete works of Shakespeare, which includes notes and photographs from performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company.   


Comedy Writing Secrets: the Best-selling Guide to Writing Funny and Getting Paid for It (3rd Edition) by Mark Shatz with Mel Helitzer

Funny Fact 1: neither Mark Shatz nor Mel Helitzer are comedians.  Instead they are both academics  – one in psychology, the other in journalism – who have both used, and successfully taught, humour writing for decades. 
Funny Fact 2: this is literally the textbook in comedy writing, having been the set text for many university-level humour writing courses in America.
Comedy Writing Secrets shows you that humour is a communication skill that can be learnt – that people who are not Born Funny can still develop the skills to become a professional humourist.  It offers a comprehensive survey on comedy and humour-writing, from theory, to the major techniques, to how to apply them to different situations.  Throughout the book there are plenty of tips and examples, as well as writing prompts to help you practise. This may be the only comedy handbook you will need!


Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make it Great by William M. Akers

Let’s face it – professional Readers (editors, agents, producers) usually have too many unsolicited scripts, and not enough time to read through them all.  They are really just reading until they see a convenient excuse to stop… it can be a small thing like spelling mistakes, or a bigger issue like an unappealing character.  William M. Akers – respected screenwriter, professional critic, and teacher of screenwriting – is here to help you avoid those mistakes and keep your readers interested.  What started as a simple checklist has grown into this guidebook with 100 tips to perfect your screenplay.  There are many funny examples and anecdotes to make the book more engaging. Even experienced writers will learn from this book.  Use it to help you start that next draft (and William M. Akers is sure that it needs another draft).  


The Idea: the Seven Elements of a Viable Story for Screen, Stage or Fiction by Erik Bork

The Idea refers to the core of your story – “a great idea [is] well executed, that grabs [the audience] emotionally, holds their attention, and entertains them”.  Unlike other writing manuals that often focus on the structure and mechanics of writing, Erik focusses on how to develop and polish that Idea, so that it will succeed with your customers (agents, producers or readers). He argues that an idea will success if it contains seven essential elements: punishing, relatable, original, believable, life-altering, entertaining, and meaningful.  As a winner of multiple Emmys and Golden Globe awards, Erik Bork is an experienced screenwriter who has worked with and for some of the biggest names in the industry.  His advice goes to the heart of effective storytelling, and will apply equally powerfully across many types of writing.

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a newly-qualified librarian working in a public library. As a book- and library-lover from way back, she finds nothing better than being surrounded by books and other library-lovers! Karen’s past lives as a law graduate, corporate warrior and research scientist continue to inform her wide-ranging tastes in reading material, with her favourite genres including historical fiction, fantasy, food writing and popular science.