one hundred essays I don't have time to write*

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21. The Drama of the Sentence

If it is true that there is nothing new under the sun and that there are only two or three basic human stories worth telling, then the true contribution of the playwright is not necessarily the story itself but the way the story is told, word for word. So that there is a drama in the linguistic progression: what word will follow what word? (In addition to: what event will follow what event?) I might call this the drama of the sentence, how will it unfold, how will it go up and down, how it will stop.
And this drama of the sentence, of the phrase--has been largely robbed from playwrights in a culture that loves movies more than it loves poetry. In the Hollywood model (which influences the world of playwriting more and more each day) every person appears to be an expert of stories and of events, and shares his or her opinion with writers about how the story should go. But a writer’s special purview and intimate power is how a word follows a word. And the cultural dependence on stories has then slowly deprived playwrights of their province—to be the person in the room who should know which word should follow which word, or how a voice answers a voice. Instead, playwrights are viewed mainly as story-tellers whose stories most likely have intrinsic flaws that can be fixed by experts.
And the insidious result is that young playwrights often become unsure of how their stories should unfold, because ten people are telling them how the story ought to unfold, and they are not taught, instead, that how their sentences unfold might determine the course of their stories, and vice versa. It is a different kind of listening, to listen to how the phrase unfolds as opposed to listening only to how the story unfolds. Surely stories are important—just as having a subject is crucial for the painter. But at times it seems as though playwriting is not considered an art form any more because we have been deprived of the paint.

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