Good Drama vs. Melodrama

A few nights ago, I ended my writing session with a review of a feature script I started in my first ever screenwriting workshop summer 2009…. Dear. Lord.

I don’t know if it was my best idea or my worst idea to do this, as I finished wanting to bury myself in a sand dune far away from anyone I ever subjected to it, but I sure learned a lot from my reading session.

  1. My first little script read like a racy romance novel. (If I had a dollar for every time I used a form of the word “desperate” in action lines, I’d feed my caffeine addiction for a week. Depressing.)
  2. I’ve learned what action lines are really for since I first wrote it. (Not for giving a play by play of the mental movie I have playing in my head)
  3. I still have no idea where I planned on taking that script in the second 50 pages.

For these things I must apologize to and acknowledge the saint-like restraint of my instructor for that workshop, Mr. Chris Martin. As I read last night, I laughed. Hard. Thank you, Chris, for pinning your chuckles behind that furrowed brow and those distant, perplexing stares.

Contrary to all appearances, it wasn’t all the humiliation I’m making it out to be. By the 50th and final page of this half-baked work, I had scrawled two things across the title page:

  1. VERBOSE!!!
  2. Dial down the MELODRAMA!

The most important realization I brought away was that I am actually learning the difference between good drama and melodrama. Good drama feels real and elicits an emotional response. Melodrama exaggerates reality and contorts the intended emotional response. Once upon a time, dramatists created melodrama on purpose to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Think 1950s romance and holiday films. It works, right? Not now. Now, audiences are less willing to suspend their disbelief for the sake of an emotional tug. Melodrama is out, realism is in. For a visual example of what I’m talking about, consider this:

Good Drama = The Holiday

Melodrama = The Backup Plan

Good Drama = The Bourne series

Melodrama = The Transporter series

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