Traditional Publishing

How to Read a Play as a Manual for Novel Writing – Saturday February 5, 2022

Several years ago, I ran into a neighbor—a fiction writer and essayist—in a coffee shop, where he was reading Harold Pinter’s The Dumbwaiter. “I like to read plays before I write fiction because they remind me how to start writing,” he said.

At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant—I thought the prose I wrote and the plays I wrote were diametrically opposed. I teach playwriting to undergrads, and I tell my students early and often that a play has more in common with a song or a poem than with a novel. In playwriting groups it’s often a veiled insult to be told that your plays are “novelistic”—that’s when you know your play is overwritten and not theatrical. I always thought if I wanted to write a novel—which I did—I had to push what I knew about playwriting away: that other than both being made up of words the two forms were at best distant, and at worst, incompatible.

In March 2020, when I had a big theatrical project postponed indefinitely, I began working on the novel that would become my debut. From the start, I could tell there was something different about my writing, something that excited me—it had an energy, a voice. Once I finished the first chapter, I knew I could keep going. And as I continued to write Vladimir, the story of an English professor’s captivation with a younger colleague,  I realized that I was pulling directly from what I knew about playwriting. Here are three aspects I considered:

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