Monday, February 11, 2008


Drama vs. Melodrama

Most dictionaries describe melodrama as “exaggerated actions", overt actions as opposed to drama which is internal conflict.

* A good example of melodrama is the Jerry Springer show. (Staged melodrama at that)
* An example of drama is something that might take place in a courtroom.
A lawyer's probing questions and a defendant’s careful answers.

Notice the big difference here. On the one hand, in the first example, there is arguing, accusations, and possibly even physical action against someone else. A slap to the face, or pulling someone’s hair, and so on. This is melodrama at it’s worst.

On the other hand, you have a mental duel going on. Inner conflict with someone’s emotions and their subdued reaction to all of it. This is drama at it’s best. Much like the courtroom scene in A Few Good Men played by Nicholson and Cruise. High drama, tension, and conflict.

Want to get rid of most of the melodrama in your script? Okay, open your file and go the replace feature in your word processor. Now replace all the exclamation points! With a period. When you read your script now, without any exclamation points, you’ll notice something. Most of the melodrama is gone, and you haven’t changed a word. Of course, you’re best bet is to go back and re-write all these melodramatic scenes in a more subtle way. Show the drama instead.

But even a fight scene need not be strewn with exclamation points and outlandish over-the-top language. That’s all melodramatic and unrealistic. In order to show drama, you must write scenes that have tension and inner conflict. Subtext, as in, don’t show everything. Write so that the reader can read between the lines.

Jack arrived late to the office, as usual.
Hey, sugar, what's going on? he said.
Jack, you’re a pig! You’re never on time, you’re disrespectful to women and what I really want to do is slap you!

Jack walked into the office and looked at the clock on the wall. He was eighteen minutes late.
Hey, sugar, what’s going on? he said.
Susan looked at the clock and took a deep breath, and glared at him.
Here’s your assignment. It’s due in twenty minutes.
She threw the files on his desk and left the room.

And there you have it. Big difference. Better writing.

Con·flict: What exactly is it?

to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash: The account of one eyewitness conflicted with that of the other.
to fight or contend; do battle.
a fight, battle, or struggle, esp. a prolonged struggle; strife.
controversy; quarrel: conflicts between parties.
discord of action, feeling, or effect; antagonism or opposition, as of interests or principles: a conflict of ideas.

Here are many definitions of conflict. But from all these, which best suits your writing?

If you answered 5., you're right. This is the kind of conflict you're looking for most of the time. This is dramatic conflict. This is what will make your work professional and polished. If you're still writing conflict as physical or bombastic scenes and statements, you're cheating yourself.

Again, dig deep and think DRAMA. This is what really drives events in real life. Sure, there will be times when physical conflict is needed, that's also part of life. But you must keep these events to a minimum. You must balance your writing. And 50 pages of tension will beat one page of melodramatic physical conflict any day. Try it.

What's a subplot and why should you use them?
Subplots are minor plots that live within your story. They are like an undercurrent of themes that tie-in with the main plot of your story. And the key word here is tie-in. You don't include subplots for the sake of adding variety to your story. They must be relevant and tie-in, or serve a purpose to the main plot in some way.

For example:
If your story is about a murder, then a good subplot might be the murderer's fascination with guns, or maybe a fascination with stories about how people were killed. Maybe he or she dreams of working in a morgue. The subplot will enhance the overall main plotline, serving to enrich your story and add depth to your main character.

The reason you want to use subplots is obvious by now. They add dimension and plausibility to your story. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, you're going to need them if you want to breakout in a big way. That's the bottom line. Give it a try.

I know these installments are short but they are direct and to the point. Only the good stuff. The real stuff you need to know. The kind of stuff that will improve your writing and get you closer to your goals. By keeping them to the bare bones, you'll get to a point of clarity about all of it. Less is more folks. Questions? Feel free to email me or post a comment.

I'll post what's coming for next week later today. Come back and check it out.

Meanwhile, keep your dreams close to your heart, and the rest will follow.

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