Paul Dundon’s Weblog


A little cheese and a little whine

Four tools to analyse drama

Drama is what you get if you show bad things happening to people we like. Writers sometimes make characters a little less likable, in order to make what happens to them less unpleasant for us to watch, but any drama has to have these two ingredients. (Not all fiction does; a lot of TV sustains itself just on having likable characters.)

  1. If the person we like brings the bad things on themself by doing something we approve of, and things do not end happily, then we have a tragedy. If they bring them on by making a mistake (in the sense of doing something foolish), then if things end happily we have a comedy and if things end badly we have tragi-comedy. (Other combinations are, of course, possible, but they don’t add up to satisfying drama. The distinction of doing something we approve of versus making an error is basically due to Umberto Eco)
  2. The themes of a drama are the kinds of bad things that happen. Thus if a bunch of people are lost in space and attacked by aliens you have a drama with a different theme than one in which a bunch of people are lost in space and end up hating each other.
  3. The premise of a drama (in the sense used by, eg, James Frey) is the general truth which enables the person we like to overcome the bad stuff, or in the case of tragedy, prevents them from doing so.
  4. The conceit of a drama is the original idea which gets the bad stuff off the ground – an event, an invention, a particular turn of character.

Filed under: Film + TV

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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