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DRAMA
by: Ronald Allan Chionglo
What is DRAMA?
Drama comes from Greek words meaning "to do" or "to act." A play is a story acted out. It shows people going through some eventful period in their lives, seriously or humorously. The speech and action of a play recreate the flow of human life. A play comes fully to life only on the stage. On the stage it combines many arts those of the author, director, actor, designer, and others. Dramatic performance involves an intricate process of rehearsal based upon imagery inherent in the dramatic text. A playwright first invents a drama out of mental imagery. The dramatic text presents the drama as a range of verbal imagery. The language of drama can range between great extremes: on the one hand, an intensely theatrical and ritualistic manner; and on the other, an almost exact reproduction of real life. A dramatic monologue is a type of lyrical poem or narrative piece that has a person speaking to a select listener and revealing his character in a dramatic situation.
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Classification of Dramatic Plays
In a strict sense, plays are classified as being either tragedies or comedies. The broad difference between the two is in the ending. Comedies end happily. Tragedies end on an unhappy note. The tragedy acts as a purge. It arouses our pity for the stricken one and our terror that we ourselves may be struck down. As the play closes we are washed clean of these emotions and we feel better for the experience. A classical tragedy tells of a high and noble person who falls because of a "tragic flaw," a weakness in his own character. A domestic tragedy concerns the lives of ordinary people brought low by circumstances beyond their control. Domestic tragedy may be realistic seemingly true to life or naturalistic realistic and on the seamy side of life. A romantic comedy is a love story. The main characters are lovers; the secondary characters are comic. In the end the lovers are always united. Farce is comedy at its broadest. Much fun and horseplay enliven the action. The comedy of manners, or artificial comedy, is subtle, witty, and often mocking. Sentimental comedy mixes sentimental emotion with its humor. Melodrama has a plot filled with pathos and menacing threats by a villain, but it does include comic relief and has a happy ending. It depends upon physical action rather than upon character probing. Tragic or comic, the action of the play comes from conflict of characters how the stage people react to each other. These reactions make the play.
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How to write a Play?
"Plays are not written, they are re-written" is a myth. Once you've written your dialogue, 80% of any help we might have given is eliminated. The major choices, about story and character, have been made and a commitment made. The earlier a play is brought to the table, the more help can be effectively applied. With this sort of pre-dialogue work our aim is: get it right the first time.
Structure - a play's story and the way of placing it onstage - is the key element in determining effective character and dialogue.
Characters are known not by what they say, but rather, by what they do. Dialogue is most effective as a reflection of intent, in communicating dramatic movement. Primary attention to structure, therefore, insures a proper perspective on developing a play's other elements.
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Characters and Story
In a dramatic story or play, the dynamic characters draw in an audience because they promise to take a story's audience on a journey to experience a story's fulfillment. The key issue to understand is that it is because characters in stories act out to resolution issues of human need that they engage the attention of an audience. When introducing a story's characters, then, writers need to suggest in some way that their characters are "ripe." This means that a character has issues that arise from a story's dramatic purpose and the story's events compel them to resolve it. For example, if courage is the main issue in a story, the storyteller can set a character into an environment designed to compel them to act. That's how a story's dramatic purpose is made visible. It establishes both why characters act and why a story's audience should care. Viewers want to care, to believe in the possibility of what a story's characters can accomplish. In that way they experience that belief in themselves. That's why a storyteller often arranges a story's elements to deliberately beat down and place characters in great danger, so the story's readers can more powerfully experience their rising up unconquered. Just as we secretly imagine ourselves, standing in their shoes, doing as well. Once the storyteller understands the role their characters serve for an audience, they can better perceive why such characters should be introduced in a particular manner: In a way an audience can understand and identify with a particular character and their goals. In a way that the audience is led to care about the outcome of a character's goals and issues while also perceiving how they advance the story toward its resolution and fulfillment. That's why it's important a storyteller introduce characters in a way that allows an audience the time to take in who the characters are and what issues they have to resolve. Often limiting the number of characters introduced in a scene can do this simply. Many popular movies, for example, have only one or two main characters in a scene. Large group scenes are the exception, not the rule. The purpose of this is so the audience can clearly identify with an understand a character's issues. Second, the actions of a story's characters should advance a story toward its resolution and fulfillment along its story and plot lines in a discernible way. If characters serve no dramatic purpose in a scene -- if their actions don't serve to advance the story -- save their introduction for a later time. Characters in a story should be designed by the storyteller to have emotions that suggest how they will react to a story's events. As an example, a story about courage, characters might confront their feelings about lacking courage. That's the internal side of the equation. The storyteller then puts them into an environment that compels them to react. By how they react, they set out the story's dramatic purpose and give voice to their feelings and concerns as the action of the story exerts pressure on them. By resolving questions based on the inner conflicts of characters, a story has meaning to those in the audience with similar feelings and issues. Story events that have no real effect on a character's inner feelings -- a character's sense of mattering -- serve no purpose in a story. Worse, they can confuse an audience. They see characters with certain issues reacting to events that don't clearly elicit those responses. Or that elicit responses that seem out of sync with what they know about a character. Or a character's issues have been kept hidden in a way the audience has no way to feel engaged over how or why characters are responding to a story's events. The deeper issue here is that the storyteller have a sense of how the types of characters that populate a story arise from a story's dramatic purpose. That their emotions arise from setting out that purpose. That the events of the story clearly compel those characters to respond based on a sense of who they are. That all of these are blended together to recreate a story's journey along its story line from its introduction to its fulfillment. Well-told stories populated with dynamic, dramatic characters with larger than life passions and needs act out issues those in the audience might struggle with. Such characters battling with other determined characters to shape a story's course and outcome bring a story's dramatic purpose to life in a fulfilling way. Creating such characters is another art in the craft of storytelling.
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How to make a story more dramatic?
To understand writing "in the dramatic moment," one should start with an understanding of the dramatic purpose of a story. A story, through its use of words, images and sounds creates for its audience the effect of a quality of movement toward resolution/fulfillment of a story's issues and events. To make a story's world feel/ring "true," every element in a story -- words, images, characters, events, ideas, environment -- must have a purpose that connects it with a story's overall dramatic purpose. Starting with an understanding of a story's overall dramatic purpose, writers can begin to see down into the interior of their stories, into the particular words and images that best bring them to life. To understand the individual words and images that compose a story and make it deeply felt, then, one can follow a series of steps. First, start with understanding the larger context of what a story's about. To understand a story's overall dramatic purpose, start with its premise. A premise identifies a story's core dramatic issue, its movement toward resolution, and what type of fulfillment that resolution sets up for the story's audience. A story is then populated with characters who feel the pull of a story's core dramatic issue, and the issues and events that arise from this issue being acted out. A story's events are those that best act out a story's dramatic movement from introduction to resolution/fulfillment. A story's physical terrain arises from what dramatizes a story's action. A story's emotional terrain arises from the emotions a story's events and issues elicit from its characters. To engage an audience, a story's events and the goals of its characters are set up as a story and scene questions suggesting a dramatic need for action/resolution. As characters act and react to a story's events and environment, the story's audience is led to internalize a story's movement to experience its resolution/fulfillment. To write deeply "in the dramatic moment," one must see a story not as a series of happenings enlivened for an audience by how they are described and recreated, but a series of events that each have an interconnected dramatic purpose that arises from a particular role in acting out a story dramatically. To understand how to write "in the dramatic moment," then, one must understand the dramatic purpose of each step/event/moment in a story, and write in a way that heightens the dramatic effect of that moment as it relates to all the "moments" in the story, and the overall sense of how that communicates a story's dramatic purpose. For example, writing about courage "in the moment" isn't trying to set up a step/event/happening to propel characters toward a story's resolution of courage. It's setting up for the audience an experience of courage in the moment of its happening through the outcome of a dramatic situation that is given meaning by its relationship to the story's dramatic purpose. To create this heightened dramatic effect, one must trim away all that has no dramatic purpose in the scene. In a novel, this means that one doesn't describe a situation to make it "real," i.e., a recreation of what a room "looks" like. One describes a room according to the dramatic purpose of a scene. Therefore, if very little information about an environment (a particular room) is important to the dramatic purpose of a scene, one doesn't expend too many words describing it. To understand which words to use to describe the scene, again start with an understanding of the dramatic purpose of the story itself, and the relationship of the scene to the story as a whole. Because the point is, again, not to make an environment, or character, or event "real" in life-like terms, but to make it dramatically "true" to the story's audience. For the screenwriter, an understanding of the scene would guide them to focus on the dialogue that heightens the drama of the moment. For the playwright, understanding the dramatic purpose of a scene is to have a tool to gauge what kind of dialogue these characters would have to bring this scene to life. The writer who starts with the question, what's the dramatic purpose of this scene? And how can it best be brought to life, can begin to write scenes from the inside out. That is, they can have characters speak directly to the dramatic issues at stake in a scene, in relationship to what's at stake in the story itself. Writers caught up in the notion that stories revolve around resolution or recreating "reality" write to make statements about a character's motives, why they respond as they do to a story's events, what they say about a story's events. Or, they describe events or places in a story as if it was the weight of description will make them ring "true" for an audience. But an environment can only be made to ring "true" to an audience to the degree that they are set up to experience its dramatic purpose. An environment without a dramatic purpose is simply dead weight, inert. Again, it's because it's not the purpose of a story to recreate life, but to recreate a dramatic experience for a story's audience.
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What makes a Drama a Drama?
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