Chapter Three of Hooked addresses drama vs. melodrama. My pre-grad school work could be a whole book for Les on this subject. I loved death and disaster. In fact, second semester my professor forbade (can you believe that?), forbade me to kill all semester. No one could die. I could not fathom how I could possibly write without death.
It amazed me to discover that not only could I write without death; but as painful as it was initially, I actually (gulp) enjoyed it. Those pre-grad school stories all reside in file cabinets now. I pull them out every once in a while just to absorb the old me. Then, I put them away. The noise and chaos were a part of my learning curve.
Second semester my stories took the following routes. Instead of exploring a bombing and the death and chaos of it, I explored the impact of the act on the brother of the young man accused of the crime. The bombing isn’t in the story except as a shadowy act that haunts a young man who had no part in it, but finds his life irrevocably changed. I explored the psychological breakdown and recovery of a young woman following the death of her mother. A mother who made sure her daughter knew she never measured up. Notice, death is there, but it’s not the focal point. It’s barely got a place in the story.
I didn’t really have to give up my fascination with death, but discovering the difference between drama and melodrama meant understanding it’s not the death itself that’s important but the aftermath of it, the impact on those left behind. In the world of drama, the conflict that provides is huge.
Melodrama is not a goal for writing. It wasn’t something I even saw in my writing until it was taken away. Then I learned to view conflict as organic to the story, a natural byproduct, not a production for the purpose of shock.
My professor took something away from me that semester in order to give me something better. It made Les’ job easier with me. The problem is melodrama is so easy to write that it’s an easy trap to fall into. It doesn’t require me to go anyplace ugly within myself. It’s all surface.
Drama cuts to the core of our humanity. It’s painful. It’s ugly. It’s effective.
Ever struggle with your stories falling into melodrama? Check out Chapter 3 of Hooked.