Yves Lavandier’s book Writing Drama currently rates as the absolute favorite of our book reviewer Jack Brislee.
To give you the opportunity to delve into Lavandier’s amazing knowledge and insight, we will be publishing a weekly excerpt from the book.
Nothing succeeds like excess
A writer must not be afraid of excess, of taking things too far. There are those who say that excess in all things is meaningless. This may be true in life, where the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle ground, in moderation—even though, when it comes to excess, reality often outdoes fiction (I shall return to this point). However it is manifestly untrue in art.
A writer must not be afraid of excess.
The great writers of drama, from William Shakespeare to Jean-Michel Charlier and from Molière to Alfred Hitchcock, via Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Lubitsch and Ingmar Bergman, all went to excessive lengths. And it clearly brought results.
In Wise Blood and Oedipus Rex, the protagonist tears his eyes out.
In The Unknown, Alonzo (Lon Chaney) has both his arms amputated in order to be able to marry the woman he loves.
In Ballad of Narayama, Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) does not flinch at breaking her own teeth in order to appear older than she really is.
In Counter Tenors, Meo (Paolo Ferrari) agrees to be castrated.
In Desire Under the Elms, a mother murders her infant child.
The list is endless, particularly when it comes to comedy which of all the genres goes furthest in stretching reality to the limit and beyond. When it comes down to it, who really is going to change their sexual identity just to get a job (cf. Some Like It Hot, Tootsie or Victor/Victoria)? Or act in any way at all like the protagonists of To Be or Not to Be?
The writer must not resort to excess as a matter of course
While on the one hand one should not hesitate to be excessive when the situation calls for it, the writer must not resort to excess as a matter of course. Going to excessive lengths implies setting out from one point, generally some kind of norm, and ending up at another, considered beyond the bounds of reasonable behaviour.
Works of drama that deal only in excess lack the shading that the norm provides by contrast, and tend to be overheated and hysterical.