Category Archives: 488 Dramatic Writing

488 Dramatic Writing


ENGLISH / FILM 488 – Fall, 2013 

Instructor: Leonard Kamerling



English / Film 488 introduces students to the craft of dramatic writing for film and theater.  This is a course about how to successfully plan, structure and write an original dramatic work. Students will gain a practical understanding of the use of story structure, setting, character, plot, dialogue, and how these elements work together to create compelling drama.

English 488 is a writing intensive course.  Graduated writing exercises will be assigned that focus on developing a play or screenplay’s dramatic premise, plot structure, and characters.  This is to help lay the groundwork necessary for students to begin their own original dramatic writing projects.  In the workshop phase of the course, students present their works-in-progress for group readings, critical feedback and suggestions for revision.

In order to have a common body of work to draw from, selected theatrical scripts and film screenplays will be read and discussed in class. Through readings and critical discussions we will explore specific narrative problems presented in each work.  We will also examine the history and evolution of dramatic writing and how the conventions of the past have shaped modern day theater and film.


1.         Completion of writing and reading assignments.

2.         Completion of one of the following final projects:

• An original one-act theatrical play – minimum length of 20 pages.

• An original one-act film screenplay – minimum length of 20 pages.

The final project should build on an original story idea.  Adaptations of published stories or creative writing works-in-progress are strongly discouraged.

This class combines lecture, discussion, and group critiques of work-in-progress. As students begin to submit work for review, the class will gradually take the form of a writing workshop.  Every student is expected to participate in discussions and workshop critiques.


The majority of the final grade will come from the final project – the original one-act play or screenplay.  I will be looking for signs of developing craft, knowledge of dramatic theory, and careful attention to criticism and revisions suggested in class. The remainder of the grade will come from writing assignments, weekly readings, and class participation.

50% – Final writing project

25% – Writing and reading assignments

25% – Class participation

Your perfect attendance is expected. Two unexcused absences will result in a lowered grade.



A Doll’s House,  by Henrik Ibsen

Fool for Love, by Sam Shepard

Death of a Salesman, By Arthur Miller

Night, Mother, by Marsha Norman


The Verdict, by David Mamet

Moonstruck, by J. Patrick Shanley


WEEKLY SCHEDULE (Subject to Change)

 Week 1: Course Introduction.  What is drama and how does it work?  Introduction to the elements of dramatic writing.

Week 2:   Classic Dramatic Story Structure. Dramatic conventions from Aristotle to Mamet. READING: A Doll’s House, Ibsen (from Modern and Contemporary Drama).

Week 3:  What Happens that Makes Something Else Happen?

READING: The Verdict,  by David Mamet (screenplay reading and film viewing).

Week 4:  The Law of Conflict – Nothing Moves Forward Without Opposition.

READING: Fool for Love, by Sam Shepard (from Modern and Contemporary Drama).

Week 5:  Psychological Realism and the Suspension of Disbelief.

READING: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller  (from Modern and Contemporary Drama).

 Week 6:  Structure Elements in Harmony. READING: Moonstruck, by J. Patrick Shanley

Week 7:  Point of View and The Character’s Journey.  Playwrights /Screenwriters Workshop.

 Week 8: Writing from Within: The Moral Argument.

READING:  Night, Mother, by Marsha Norman  (from Modern and Contemporary Drama).

Weeks 9 & 10 Playwrights / Screenwriter’s Workshop.

Week 11: The Midpoint Crisis – Act Design and Scene Construction.

Playwrights / Screenwriter’s Workshop.

Week 12:  Fantasy and the Absurd.  – Trends In Contemporary Theater and Cinema

Playwrights / Screenwriter’s Workshop.

Weeks13-15:  Playwrights / Screenwriters Workshop.



Week 5 –   First five pages of play/screenplay due.

Week 8 –  Second five pages of play/screenplay due.

Week 14 – Final Projects due.