SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Walking on Fire

Walking on Fire

The Shaping Force of Emotion in Writing Drama

Add to Cart

Jim Linnell


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
144 pages, 6 x 9, 3 illustrations


Additional Materials

About the Book

In this bold new way of looking at dramatic structure, Jim Linnell establishes the central role of emotional experience in the conception, execution, and reception of plays. Walking on Fire: The Shaping Force of Emotion in Writing Drama examines dramatic texts through the lens of human behavior to identify the joining of event and emotion in a narrative, defined by Linnell as emotional form.Effectively building on philosophy, psychology, and critical theory in ways useful to both scholars and practitioners, Linnell unfolds the concept of emotional form as the key to understanding the central shaping force of drama. He highlights the Dionysian force of human emotion in the writer as the genesis for creative work and articulates its power to determine narrative outcomes and audience reaction.Walking on Fire contains writing exercises to open up playwrights to the emotional realities and challenges of their work. Additionally, each chapter offers case studies of traditional and nonlinear plays in the known canon that allow readers to evaluate the construction of these works and the authors’ practices and intentions through an xamination of the emotional form embedded in the central characters’ language, thoughts, and behaviors. The plays discussed include Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Athol Fugard’s “MASTER HAROLD”. . .and the boys, Donald Margulies’s The Loman Family Picnic, Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, and Tony Kushner’s Angels in America

Walking on Fire
opens up new conversations about content and emotion for writers and offers exciting answers to the questions of why we make drama and why we connect to it. Linnell’s userfriendly theory and passionate approach create a framework for understanding the links between the writer’s work in creating the text, the text itself, and the audience’s engagement.


Jim Linnell is a professor of theatre at the University of New Mexico and the founding artistic director of Words Afire Festival, a festival of new plays from the writing program at the university



"Linnell shows that the history of dramatic forms is a history of the emotions that shape our lives and societies, and this makes his study a vital contribution to the field of theatre studies, especially to models of dramaturgy that question the separa-tion of form from emotion."—Theatre History Studies

“Jim Linnell has discovered and shaped concepts and images that illuminate the mysteries of creative work for the stage in a new way. His book will enrich the practice of anyone trying to write for the theater, or engage with any art that flows from the emotional depths of human beings. His book is flush with examples, ideas, and (extremely valuable for me) his own personal experience as a writer and teacher. Terrific stuff—intense, with a great seriousness to it, and a hard-earned wisdom.”—Len Jenkin, Playwright and Professor of Dramatic Writing, New York University

“This is a deeply important book for playwrights grappling with craft, dramaturgs hoping to unlock the secrets of dramatic structure, and audience members emotionally engaged in the experience of live performance.”—Suzan Zeder, head of playwriting and directing, University of Texas at Austin

“Jim Linnell's passionate, provocative book restores the primacy of emotion–not theory–to discussions of the writer's craft. This is a text both aspiring and veteran dramatists in all media can turn to again and again for guidance and reinforcement.”—Kirk Ellis, Writer/Co-Executive Producer, John Adams

“This is a very personal and powerful story of one man's quest to figure out how theater works in our time. His readings of specific texts are thoughtful and detailed, and clearly have been seriously considered. His originality lies in the depth of his commitment to his notion of emotional form. Linnell has lived an interesting life and done a lot of things. Consequently his ideas on the theater have gone through an extensive metamorphosis. The wisdom is real, has been earned. His is a unique voice in our time.”—Mac Wellman, playwright