Finding
a balance between drama and melodrama can be very hard sometimes. Today, let’s
take a look at some of the areas an author may want to examine when
self-editing to assure that the drama is not overdone:
Don’t take a small conflict and try to make
it bigger:
When an author takes a minor problem and turns it into something
major without providing motivation for the larger conflict, the reader will
think the work contrived. Instead, if Betty’s prom date calls up ten minutes
before the prom to tell her he’s taking Debra instead of her, let that be the necessary
drama. The reader can sympathize with Betty, and Betty needs to take some major
action to get back into the game—like calling her drop-dead gorgeous-guy of a
best friend who happens to attend a school outside of town. She might be a
little late to the prom, but she’s going to make her date and Debra jealous. And
what if Betty finds true love with drop-dead gorgeous guy of a best friend but
doesn’t realize it because she’s busy chasing deadbeat prom guy. On the other
hand,what if Betty knows that Debra is a little off from center, and that her
prom date might be in danger? Then Betty’s reaction would be decidedly
different and a little more dramatic. She has to save the no-good cheat despite
the fact he dumped her.
Understated drama pulls a bigger punch:
What happens if Betty is at home waiting for her mother to arrive so they can
go shopping for her prom dress? This is the biggest event that has happened
since her father passed away two years before, and Mom has smiled for the first
time in ages. When a car pulls up in the driveway, Betty is excited. Mom will
probably come in and change out of her clothes, and they’ll be on their way.
Betty pulls back the curtain, and instead of her mother’s car in the driveway
she sees a state trooper—just like the night her father died. Yes, you could
make Betty fall apart, fall to her knees, fall into the arms of the trooper,
but what if Betty opens the door and braces herself for the trooper’s words? She
doesn’t say a thing as the officer tells her that her mother has been seriously
injured. She remains quiet when the officer asks her to get the number of her
nearest relative who lives several states away—someone her mother would not
want her to be with. She still doesn’t speak as they tell her the relative will
arrive soon. Only after the trooper has done all this does she speak. She keeps
her back straight and with a very steady voice says, “Would you mind taking me
to my mom? She doesn’t like to be alone when she’s not feeling well.”
Don’t bury the humor: High-volume
conflict sometimes does bring out the humor in others. When things are at their
most intense, humor can be the author’s greatest tool. Allowing the reader a
slight break from the conflict isn’t letting the reader down. Instead, a little
humor gives the reader a necessary and unexpected break. Humor in the midst of
the extreme conflict is better than a scene where the reader is pulled away
from the conflict completely. However, both type scenes are necessary. If the
story isn’t a comedy, the author may wish to keep the humor to a medium, but
even one line that makes a reader laugh out loud will secure that novel in the
readers’ minds for years. John Grisham did that for me in his novel The Runaway Jury. I can still quote the
line today.

When
writing drama, it is important to ask others if the drama is too melodramatic.
Could a character handle a situation with calm and add to the tension, and can
humor provide the relief a reader might need in the middle of an intense scene?

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