Writer/director Alexander Mackendrick (Sweet Smell of Success) said of British drama critic and playwright William Archer, “To speak personally, Archer’s book on dramatic structure [Play-making] is the best text I know on the subject of dramatic construction. Here’s an excerpt from that book first published in 1912:
“One thing is certain, and must be emphasised from the outset: namely, that if any part of the dramatist’s art can be taught, it is only a comparatively mechanical and formal part—the art of structure. One may learn how to tell a story in good dramatic form; how to develop and marshal it in such a way as best to seize and retain the interest of a theatrical audience. But no teaching or study can enable a man to choose or invent good story, and much less to do that which alone lends dignity to dramatic story-telling—to observe and portray human character.”
Play-Making: A Manuel of Craftmanship
Mackendrick in his book On Film-making says of that passage, “I would rather say that it is possible to examine how certain dramatists have constructed material in a way that at certain times has seized the interest of an audience. If they have also succeeded in seizing and retaining your interest, you should take a closer look at just how they did this. Though drama cannot be taught as such, it can definitely be learned the way most skills are learned: by examination of others whose work you admire.”
Can Screenwriting Be Taught?