Drama Films and its Writing Challenges. Elements of the Genre – Drama.

by Pratyush Velicheti | July 8th, 2020

It is said that the Drama Genre is one that encompasses all other genres, and this is not entirely wrong. The thing about this genre is it’s tricky not because it’s superior or anything, but because it’s more subjective than any other genre in comparison. Think about it, a plane being highjacked, Godzilla smashing buildings, Keanu Reaves shooting people, is all very entertaining and exciting but that’s about it. There is no subjectivity involved with these things. They are cool, badass, and thrilling but that’s about it. There is nothing lurking beneath the surface which I feel is what the drama genre is about. It’s one of the hardest of all to crack due to the immense possibilities and choices one can make, and as mentioned above it’s all very subjective to the filmmakers, but here are a few key things to keep in mind while preparing to make a drama film. Keep in mind these points are true to all film genres, every film must have a good story, compelling characters, etc but here I will be diving into the drama genre in particular.

1. The characters

I start with characters before getting to the plot because drama isn’t always about over-the-top action/explosions, one can create drama simply by exploring the dynamics of the characters which is key in a Drama film. Sure one has to think of a premise but in reality, It’s the characters that drive the plot, not the other way around. This genre is THE MOST character-centric because the whole film rests on their shoulders not relying on special effects or crazy catastrophic events. It can use those things too, but the characters must be at the front and center of any good Drama. For example, both Seven, as well as American Psycho fall under the genre of Drama but, are very different films. It’s not necessary for you to know someone like Patrick Batemen to come up with a character like him, but what you do need is the understanding of the psyche of someone like that. Fictional or not, your character has to be understood by the audience. It’s not necessary that they have to be realistic or have common traits to be understood. There probably aren’t many people like Batemen in real life, but the film’s introduction lets us into the mind of the character letting us understand who he is, how he thinks, what he wants. His rigid routine as well as his raging jealousy are exaggerated versions of the same emotions that we feel which makes us understand/relate to him. In that same way, you don’t have to know or be a detective to be able to understand Brad Pitt’s character from Seven, you just need to understand their motives, how they operate, how they think. Once you get the audience to care about your characters, whoever they may be, no matter how psychotic or ‘unrealistic’, you have done half the work needed to make a good drama film. Now you can begin to flesh out the details of the plot and the world that you are building.

2.The story/plot.

Due to the number of possibilities that are available to you as a filmmaker in terms of plot, I would recommend making it something personal, something that you may have experienced or known about directly. What I mean by this is to write about something which you understand, and find relatable. I say this because if you write something personal, (something you care about) chances are the people watching will also be able to at least understand if not relate. Again as I mentioned above, they don’t need to relate to the characters, what’s more, important is understanding them. Because once they understand them they are invested in their fates and here is where you can truly let your imagination take over

3. Themes/Conflicts.

The themes and conflicts in your movie are essential for providing an experience that will be carried out even after the film has ended. The filmmaking medium has a lot of things coming together to make it complete so you must pay grave attention to all of them to make the film richer in the material. You must pay attention to what is happening beneath the surface and find a way to make that visible to your audience without doing through minutes of exposition. A good story, fleshed-out characters aren’t enough. You need to provide them with a philosophy that they may believe, a way of thinking of theirs which is challenged maybe. These are only a couple of internal examples but these elements are what provide conflicts for your characters. The same can be done through external links such as if your character wants something, you must provide elements that are stopping him from getting what he wants. That’s an example of an external factor causing conflict for your characters which provides an opportunity to go in different directions. The way they react or try to overcome the obstacles gets us even more invested and interested. So remember to provide for conflict into your story because, without it, there is very little scope for anything dramatic to happen.

4. Motivations/Stakes.

Your character wants something and there is something in the way of them getting it. But why do they want it? Why do they need it? What is so important that they are willing to go through hell to get it? These are the questions one must keep in mind while preparing to make a good drama. As I said it’s a character-driven genre, so most of the drama is centered around them. You must think hard about their motives and emotions in relation to what they want because this will further deepen the conflict that your character finds themself in. This will make the audience be even more invested in the film and how things are going to play out. You need to know what’s at stake for your characters. This drive has to be of great importance and so does what they are driving towards. One can make a good drama film simply based on this dynamic, rather than adding over the top action sequences if they aren’t really necessary to the plot. It never hurts to add depth and emotion to any film, because the more at stake the more the investment in the characters.

Once you have established the importance of what they are after and why they are after it, you have the other perspective to flesh out.

This brings me to the other side of the coin. You have established a strong motivation, now you need to add stakes. What’s at stake if they don’t succeed in acquiring what they want? What are the consequences if they don’t have what they want? What will they lose if they don’t get what they are after? These are things that will further enhance and magnify the suspense and events as once you understand what’s at stake, understand what’s driving their motivation and you are even more interested and invested in the characters hoping for them to succeed.

Taking an example from World War Z, the motivation of Brad Pitt’s character is strong because it’s survival and safety for his family as the whole world battles a zombie apocalypse. Since it’s survival we also know the stakes as if they are caught, they are infected and this is what makes us care about what will happen to the family and keeps us on the edge of our seats in the scenes where they are running away from the zombies. The motivation is survival, and the stakes are death. Both very strong elements which are essential to provide suspense and drama.

5. Suspense.

Once you have successfully followed the steps that are mentioned above you can think about what situations are to take place. Because you now know what’s at stake, what’s motivating them, who they are, how they will react, this step should come out almost naturally. All you need to think of at this stage is making those conflicts/obstacles visible through events and activities. So there is a zombie apocalypse, people are running to survive, now is where you can sit and have fun with the situations you are creating for your characters to find themselves in. Keep in mind just because people care about them doesn’t mean that you can show anything because it’s cool, remember to maintain consistency with the characters as well as the story because if you have set a tone for your story and now suddenly do something outside that tone without explanations, it will be a put off for the audience.

Once you have thought of situations/events you need to focus on making it cinematic. Making it not only thrilling on the page but on the screen as well. Here is where you need to understand the technical aspects such as which camera movements to use, what they make your audience feel, the soundtrack that could be in the background, what mind space that puts the audience in, the set, the cinematography, editing and so on. At this stage, your focus is making it cinematic and thrilling. Be it an internal drama or a detective thriller, both types must have a major focus on getting the audience to feel and experience the conflict. Making it visible to them through the characters and their responses, is what this genre is about.

Keeping these things in mind for creating a dramatic effect is crucial and necessary because, without any of these elements, the film is bound to fall flat.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Pratyush Velicheti

An aspiring writer and a film fanatic, actively creating content for a thriving Instagram page – ‘Waves of Thoughts’


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