All About Theater

How to Write a Play
by Émile Zola

My dear Comrade:

You ask how I write my plays. Alas! I should rather tell you how I do not write them.

Have you noticed the small number of new writers who take their chances in the theater? The explanation is that in reality, for our generation of free artists, the theater is repugnant, with its cookery, its hobbles, its demand for immediate and brutal success, its army of collaborators, to which one must submit, from the imposing leading man down to the prompter. How much more independent are we in the novel! And that's why, when the glamor of the footlights makes the blood dance, we prefer to exercise it by keeping aloof and to remain the absolute masters of our works. In the theater we are asked to submit to too much.

Let me add that in my own case I have harnessed myself to a group of novels which will take twenty-five years of my life. The theater is a dissipation which I shall doubtless not permit myself until I am very old.

After all, if I could indulge in the theater. I should try to _make_ plays much less than is the custom. In literature truth is always in inverse proportion to the construction. I mean this: The comedies of Molière are sometimes of a structure hardly adequate, while those of Scribe are often Parisian articles of marvellous manufacture.

Very cordially yours,

Émile Zola.


Émile Zola (1840-1902) was a novelist who repeatedly sought for success as a dramatist, attaining it only in the adaptations of his stories made by professional playwrights. Yet one of his earlier pieces, 'Thérèse Raquin' is evidence that he might have mastered the art of the playwright, if he had not allowed himself to be misled by his own unfortunate theory of the theatre as set forth in his severe studies of 'Nos Auteurs Dramatiques' (1881).

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