Playwrighting and book writing seem similar, at least from the outside. Both need interesting characters and compelling plots to be effective, and they usually employ the three-act structure of storytelling. Thanks to the similarities between the building blocks of the two mediums, playwrights often wonder if they can write prose fiction.
Playwrights do write books and novels, and people like Tennessee Williams and Anton Chekhov have done that successfully. However, both are two different art forms, and a playwright needs to master the nuances of prose writing if they want to be any good at it.
If you’re wondering what makes prose writing different from playwrighting and want to know the names of some famous books written by playwrights, keep reading this article.
Famous Playwrights Who Failed At Novels
As mentioned earlier, playwrighting and novel writings are two entirely different beasts. There is a long list of playwrights, including Joe Orton and Tom Stoppard, who struggled to adapt to the demand of the book writing.
Conversely, prominent authors such as James Joyce, Henry James, and Iris Murdoch, failed to embrace the requirement of writing for the stage.
Literary critics believe these celebrated names couldn’t replicate their success in the second medium because their work wasn’t tailored to the need of that art form. Instead, their work read more like an extension of their work in the original art form.
The Difference Between Playwrighting and Novel Writing
If you’re switching from playwrighting to novel writing, it’s good to know the traits that set it apart from your original medium.
Play Is All About Collaboration: Book Writing Is a Solitary Process
A play isn’t a finished product in itself, but instead, it’s more like a recipe. The director and actors don’t follow it exactly and will add, remove or modify parts of the play based on their experience and understanding.
This results in a highly collaborative effort built on the blueprint of the playwright’s work but also has traces of the director and actors’ imagination in it.
However, as a book writer, you can decide everything that happens in the world of your story. You choose the way your characters dress, speak and act, and while the editor can suggest some changes, it’s still mostly your words on the paper.
As a novelist, you own the success or failure of your work.
Dialogue Plays a Different Role In Novels
Dialogue is an integral part of any fictional work, be it a play or a novel. Yet, when dabbling into book writing, you can’t approach the dialogues the same way you do when writing for the stage. As you’ll see below, dialogue serves widely different purposes in these two mediums.
Exposition Through Dialogue – Yea or Nay
Due to the constraint of the medium, action and dialogue are the only tools available to playwrights to convey their stories, and they have no choice but to use one or both of them for exposition.
However, exposition through dialogue is often considered bad writing when it comes to novels. Readers and critics frown at long expository dialogue crammed together. In this art form, narration and internal monologues are preferred ways to reveal the backstory.
This isn’t to say that you can’t use dialogue as an exposition tool. Many seasoned writers use it, and you can do that too. But use it sparingly, or your work may be seen as trite and boring.
Different Ways To Present Information
Even though playwrights can use scenery and costume changes to suggest a shift in time and settings, it costs time and breaks the momentum of the performance. Hence, playwrights prefer not to employ these techniques until it’s indispensable.
Instead, they prefer to use dialogue to convey the information that the audience needs to know.
However, remember that novels provide you with a much larger canvas than plays. Besides action and dialogue, you can use tools like description, narration, and internal monologues to provide information to your readers.
Being Direct vs. Being Subtle
While book readers can take a break to ponder or reread a page to understand the text better, theater audiences don’t have that option. That’s why playwrights usually write dialogue that is direct and to the point.
However, if you write this direct and on-point dialogue for your book, you’ll be accused of writing on-the-nose dialogue, i.e., stating the obvious or writing without any subtleties or subtext.
Popular Books Written by Playwrights
Over the years, many playwrights have tried their hand at novel writing with varying degrees of success. Let’s take a look at some of the books that receive favorable responses from critics as well as readers.
This is the first novel written by Tennessee Williams (available on Amazon.com), published in 1950. The book recounts the story of a retired American stage actress, the titular character, Mrs. Stone. She is a recent widow and is trying to come to terms with her new life in Rome, the death of her husband, and aging.
Publishers Weekly called this book “as compelling, as fascinating, and as technically skilled as his plays.” The book has been adapted into two movies, first in 1961 and then in 2003.
Suzan Lori Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 for her play Topdog/Underdog and became the first African-American woman to receive the award for drama.
In 2003, she debuted in novel writing with Getting Mother’s Body (available on Amazon.com). The book tells the story of Billy Beede, a pregnant, unmarried African-American woman, and her poverty-stricken family as they search for buried jewels in 1960s Texas.
The book received mostly positive reviews from critics.
Playwrights can write books and novels, and some people have tasted success in both mediums. However, it’s not easy and requires one to put in time and effort to understand the nuances of prose writing.
Play is a collaborative medium, while book writing is a solo endeavor. And though both art forms use dialogue, writing dialogue for a novel is way different than writing that for a play.