What Is Drama?

Since I became a newsletter editor, I have struggled with the question, what is drama? What makes a story into a drama? This has been especially difficult as I sought out works to include as editor’s picks. I fear a riot should I inadvertently include a non-drama piece – but I’m sure it would make for a dramatic uprising.

What else could I do but search the dictionary – or in this lovely modern era, dictionary.com? The site discusses various aspects of a play or theatrical production, then moves towards the definition of drama as a genre. The two interpretations that stuck out most to me were:

an episode that is turbulent or highly emotional
the quality of being arresting or highly emotional

In both instances, the phrase ‘highly emotional’ stands out. To write a dramatic piece, it seems that emotion must be the primary focus. The activity that occurs is important, of course, but without an inner or emotional change, the piece is not a drama. It may be a fine story, fit for the science fiction or action/adventure genres, but not drama.

This is not to say that a science fiction or action/adventure piece cannot be drama. I think many pieces can be classified as both. The difference is how relevant the emotion is to the story. Do we find ourselves mainly rooting for the hero to overcome his nemesis, or do we also hope he can defeat his childhood demons?

I’ve noticed most movies seem to be picking up the trend, perhaps not wanting to be considered ‘shallow’. They want to be deep, or maybe they just want to appeal to the ‘chicks’ as well as the guys. For some reason, the movie Batman (the first one, with Michael Keaton) sticks out in my head. Poor Brucie struggles to overcome the emotional upset of confronting his parents killers. Contrast this with the Adam West Batman shows and you’ll see the difference. Now, this doesn’t mean I consider Batman a drama, but they sure did try, didn’t they?

Back to writing. How do we bring out the emotion in  Dramacool our characters? How do we put ourselves in our characters shoes if we’ve never felt what they have? How do we make sure our readers are convinced?

Start with how you would feel in a given situation. Relate it to what you know. Perhaps you have never lost a child, but what do you think that would feel like (start with what having a child might feel like and go from there). Do you remember the pain you felt when your puppy was run over? Expand on that. Make it more tangible. Obviously, losing a child and losing a dog are two different pieces of pain, but start with what you know.

Avoid cliches. Phrases like grief welled up inside him, and she loved him more than he would ever knowdon’t reveal how a character truly feels. Find a new way to say it.

Which lets you know how much the character hurts? }Pain cut him like a knife or }With those words, Jack’s chest contracted. His lungs no longer functioned, and he struggled to breathe. She wasn’t leaving him, was she? A dull roar inside his chest grew stronger until it consumed him. And so forth.

If the experience is totally foreign to you, do a little research. After all, this is the age of the Internet. Search for grief and loss forums. Search for pieces on writing.com that handle whatever emotion you are exploring. See if yo


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