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Glenn Alterman – Writing the 10-Minute Play review

Useful guidance for writers of the short play form.

Writing the 10-Minute Play

With the genre on ‘how to write’ already a crowded market, it requires a fresh angle with a unique selling point to make a new titles worthwhile, and Writing the 10-Minute Play achieves this in two ways.

Firstly it’s geared primarily to helping writers interested in creating (as you may expect from the title) 10-minute plays, and it covers the unique demands and potential pitfalls of that particular form. Secondly, author Glenn Alterman’s advice keeps one eye on actors who want to write: thus any performer familiar with the demands of the theatre who wants to write short plays but doesn’t know where to start will find this book tailor-made for their needs.

The book is snappy and concise; falls into easy-to-digest sections within clearly-defined chapters, and contains some excellent pithy advice for all writers. One of the most useful sections is the inclusion of three 10-minute plays that have all been performed and received critical acclaim. The authors of the plays (Jenny Lyn Bader, Craig Pospisil and Alterman himself) provide a few pages of discourse about their ideas and the writing processes behind them.

On the downside, most crucially there’s no index. Whilst this isn’t too fundamental, since the book runs to only 159 pages and is split into easy-to-find sections, there are a few concepts (for example, “theme”), which cut across several sections, and an index would have been useful for referencing specific terms. It’s geared specifically towards the US market too. That’s fair enough, since Alterman is based in New York City: but UK readers beware that the chapter on where to submit your plays will have little relevance.

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Writing the 10-Minute Play is perhaps not the best place to start for absolute beginners to playwriting. It assumes a certain level of knowledge from its readership, as it covers subjects such as Aristotle’s Poetics and Freytag’s Pyramid, perhaps in the spirit of economy required for the 10-minute play, in only two pages. There are occasions, such as in the discussion of rehearsed readings, where more detail about organizing them might have proved useful. Instead, Writing the 10-Minute Play will find its natural readership in established writers and performers, who are perhaps looking for a short refresher course or require more specific advice when moving from full-length plays to the short play form.

The book is full of useful guidance for writers, and for that reason it’s easy to recommend. The chapter on reading the first draft contains pithy counsel from a seasoned professional that writers of every level of expertise would do well to commit to memory. Not all of the subjects touched on in the tome will be useful to every reader (the third chapter on approaching the writing process may prove divisive) but there’s enough scope in the book for some sections to resonate with almost every reader.

Best of all, it contains interviews with playwrights and producers of the 10-minute form, and Alterman asks them all the right questions. The consistency of their responses should be food for thought for any writer with a commitment to learning his or her craft and trade in the 10-minute form.

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