Lajos Egri

Literary Birthday – 4 June – Lajos Egri

Lajos Egri was born 4 June 1888 and died 7 February 1967.


  1. Everything has a purpose or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there.
  2. No, you don’t have to start your play with a premise. You can start with a character or an incident, or even a simple thought. This thought or incident grows, and the story slowly unfolds itself. You have time to find your premise in the mass of your material later. The important thing is to find it.
  3. Immortality. We all want to be remembered: We want to do things that will make people say, ‘Isn’t he wonderful?’
  4. No two dramatists think or write alike. Ten thousand playwrights can take the same premise, as they have done since Shakespeare, and not one play will resemble the other except in the premise. Your knowledge, your understanding of human nature, and your imagination will take care of that.
  5. Although you should never mention your premise in the dialogue of your play, the audience must know what the message is. And whatever it is, you must prove it.
  6. There is only one realm in which characters defy natural laws and remain the same—the realm of bad writing. And its the fixed nature of the characters which makes the writing bad. If a character in a short story, novel, or play occupies the same position at the end as the one he did at the beginning, that story, novel, or play is bad.
  7. Every object has three dimensions: depth, height, width. Human beings have an additional three dimensions: physiology, sociology, psychology. Without a knowledge of these three dimensions we cannot appraise a human being.
  8. We must start a play at a point of decision, because that is the point at which the conflict starts and the characters are given a chance to expose themselves and the premise.

According to Wikipedia, his theses on character development and motivation in The Art Of Creative Writing can be summarised as follows:

  1. ‘All human beings are fundamentally selfish, their primary drive being to feel, or be perceived as, important.
  2. Human character is fixed and does not change significantly over life.
  3. Creative writing should start from identification of one or more main characters, rather than from actions, events or incidents.
  4. Characters should have an overriding trait (Egri’s word is ‘compulsion’), typically negative, such as greed, snobbery or extravagance, coupled with the determination that that trait should prevail.
  5. The author should clearly understand her characters’ motivations, if necessary by providing histories/biographies which inform the story even if they do not form part of it.
  6. A satisfying structure – used in many of the book’s examples – is one in which two characters with opposing flaws are inextricably bound together, leading to a crisis in which the conflict is resolved by some dramatic action.’

Lajos Egri was an American playwright and teacher. He was the author of The Art Of Dramatic Writing, one of the best works on playwriting. His teachings have been adapted for the writing of short stories, novels, and screenplays. He is also the author of the companion textbook, The Art of Creative Writing.

Source for image (public domain) / Source for quotes

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 3rd June 2020