Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dramatic vs. Melodramatic

Dramatic = exciting or impressive
Melodramatic = exaggerated, sensationalized, or overemotional

I'm studying HOOKED, by Les Edgerton, while I re-write my opening. Edgerton reminds us to open our stories with an inciting incident within a dramatic scene. "A scene is a unit of drama. Drama means conflict." But he's careful to point out that the scene should not be melodramatic.

He illustrates his point through THELMA & LOUISE. If you've seen the movie, you may remember the opening where Thelma strays from the norm when she chooses not to ask her husband for permission to go on a trip. It doesn't open with the shooting of the would-be rapist, or the car explosion at the gas station. Thelma's decision to keep quiet sets the story in motion. It's subtle, yet effective.

Edgerton quotes Janet Burroway on the subject of melodrama vs. drama. "Another mistake frequently made by young writers is to think that they can best introduce drama into their stories by way of murderers, chase scenes, crashes, and vampires, the external stock dangers of pulp and TV. In fact, all of us know that the most profound impediments to our desire usually lie closer to home, in our own bodies, personalities, friends, lovers, and families. Fewer people have cause to panic at the approach of a stranger with a gun than at the approach of Mama with the curling iron. More passion is destroyed at the breakfast table than in a time warp."

Edgerton suggests we start small, with low volume, then amp it up throughout the book. After all, if we begin with a nuclear bomb, where do we go from there? And while we're on the subject, here's a list of Opening No Nos.

What's your opinion? Do you prefer openings with dramatic scenes or melodramatic?

41 comments:

  1. LOL what's wrong with exploding vampires?? He he he. Seriously though, it's a really good point and one that isn't addressed frequently enough. I can't wait to read that link because I think I missed that one.

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  2. I love this book too. I'm thinking about doing a blog series about it. The beginnng is always such a tough spot. There are a million possibilites. I have to be careful of being too melodramatic in my openings because I struggle to design inciting incidents that aren't, well, melodramatic. This is a tough job, huh?

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  3. Good point. Personally, I'm not sure I have a preference as a reader, as long as the author can manage to make me care about what the drama going on is. In other words, if they are going to start out with something explosive, I hope they have a way to make me care about it AND keep the pace/tension going after it, or they might lose me. As a writer, I prefer more subtle openings. Good post.

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  4. Sound advice. I think I prefer dramatic that builds over the course. Although - I've seen a lot of the "no-nos" open up a few novels for me. I guess it really comes down to the quality of the writing. :)

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  5. Your post timing couldn't be better. I just got back from a conference in San Diego and the editor doing my advanced reading said I needed to tone this exact thing down. I love how you compared it to volume, that makes so much sense!

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  6. Wonderful post. I would prefer dramatic over melodramatic any day. But..I think openings with dramatic scenes is my weak point, though I am trying to rectify it.

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  7. Melodrama implies a teen crisis to me! Both of my stories open with subtle.

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  8. Its a good point. We have to take it into consideration everytime we dive into a new opening.

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  9. Melodrama is usually cheap, but... if it goes for the humanity in w/in the melodrama, it can work, a la the film "Nurse Betty".

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  10. I agree with low drama but interest, introduce you characters life and then go from there :)

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  11. I go with a more believable drama than over the top melodrama. That being said, melodrama can work sometimes. Great post!

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  12. I LOVE that book. Changed my entire outlook on writing. =)

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  13. fantastic advice, Julie! I love this--and I prefer drama. ;o) <3

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  14. I'm excited to dive into a another great book on writing. I liken the dramatic vs. melodramatic to believable acting vs. over-acting. Thank you for provoking my thoughts once again, Julie.

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  15. I love books that open with an important scene, then works in back-story—after I’m interested.

    Could be a small problem or a loud boom, either way, it must set the tone for what’s to come.

    I don’t want a boom, if the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the first part.
    It must have action and reaction (physical, emotional, or both)… that’s the only way I relate to a story.

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  16. Good advice, Julie. I prefer a more subtle opening, too. I'm working on the third draft of my novel now, and a couple of readers have told me that the opening scene was a little TOO subtle. Subtle could be the ideal background to illuminate the character's big decision or crisis -- that's the task to accomplish.

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  17. Julie, I just wanted to thank you for the shout-out you gave my little blue book, Hooked. More, I'm delighted it's helped you a bit on your own writer's journey--that's the real reward for me.

    If you get a chance, please visit my blog at www.lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

    Thanks, again!

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  18. I do love when emotions show more drama than some exciting scene. Maybe that's why Stephen King really does it for me in that department. He brings everything to a slow boil then freaks the crud out of me!

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  19. I loved that book. Hooked really help me see the error of my ways. His examples were so logical and easy to understand.
    I tend to agree with starting off easy, but right in the middle of the inciting incident. I actually use his formula now before writing my stories--to determine what all the problems will be before diving in.

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  20. Great advice. I enjoy getting to know the characters as soon as possible. Letting me in to their thoughts and feelings right away works for me :)

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  21. I just worked out recently that I prefer openings that are a little quieter (though not boring). Melodrama that comes too soon has less impact, because I'm not sure yet how much I care about the characters it's happening to!

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  22. Great advice! I think I like it when things build up slowly and then take off, and you're on the edge of your seat waiting to know what happens next.

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  23. Nice post. I actually really like melodrama if the whole STORY is a bit over the top (intentionally and for the sake of humor)--Think Tom Robbins... Sex, SO GOOD that it starts a stick, a sock and a can of beans on a mind-bending journey... But if I am going to take a story seriously, then drama is definitely better. Funny though... we are told we really have to grab readers on page one, and so we can't find an AGENT with subtle... it's easy to see how we get mixed up and overshoot when we try to write that gripping beginning.

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  24. Great points. And so true that conflict with characters that are close in relationship is higher than a stranger with a gun. Readers connect with real life, I believe, and relationships are real for all of us.

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  25. I am a huge fan of this book as well, Julie. His advice sticks to the synapses of my cranium; especially when I'm revising openings. Which is, purty much, all the time.
    Thanks for the reconnect.
    Patti

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  26. i like quiet opening scenes with a shudder just beneath the surface. something looming, prescient.

    i never thought of the opening of thelma and louise in this way. one of my favorite films ;-)

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  27. VERY interesting, and a good point. I don't like my openings too active, because it throws me off. Too much in the middle of the scene, before I've had a chance to grow into the mood or feel of the writing/characters. It's all about finding that balance...

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  28. As long as I can connect to the character through internal thoughts, it doesn't matter to me if it's high action or not. But there needs to be something, or I will quickly put it down. It's usually voice that sucks me in.

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  29. The book sounds right up my alley! I don't open with big bangs! My character is usually facing a dilemma--one that will be very difficult for her to make a decision about.

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  30. I loved the book. After cutting off my original chapter one, I studied his book like crazy. It was worth it in the end. :D

    I don't need drama. I need to love the voice and feel connected to the mc. But something does have to happen before the end of the chapter to keep me reading.

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  31. Great post, Julie, and thanks for linking to the list of no-no's. I like to get to know the character in the first scene, and a bang-up action scene doesn't allow me to do that. I like to know the motivation of the character from the get-go. Long exposition makes me snore.

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  32. OMg, Julie! I just finished reading this one too. It was a good read, and I recommend it definitely.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  33. Julie,
    I think it depends on the story line if melodramatic is the right presentation...
    I will have to read the book; sounds intriguing!

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  34. I lean towards dramatic vs. melodramatic because I need to get invested in the characters a bit before any big, melodramatic event has much meaning for me. He makes some interesting points.

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  35. Love the list of opening no-nos. Especially dreams! (The worst!)

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  36. love that pic!! And loved the movie Thelma and Louise. The story I'm working on now opens with a punch...hopefull it's more drama than melodramatic...sometimes I think I might be a little too intense....and have to tone things down.

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  37. I prefer dramatic. I like an action scene early on, or an event that is out of the ordinary. My attention needs to be captured quickly, or else I .... look, a squirrel with a fuzzy tail.

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  38. Hello fellow crusader, I go for an opening that offers hints about the story's main theme.

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  39. Well, I know it is in literary fashion to open with exploding vampires having a fight but I actually hate it. I want a book that gives me a glimpse of the character in regular first - I mean how do I know he doesn't explode every dang day, if thats what I get on the first page.
    Also, sex is like a date - please wait until at least the third chapter before doing it on paper. I hate watching people I don't know have nookie - wait I don't watch people I do know either - but what I mean is you have to have yourself in the characters place and page one is not it.
    I also really don't like the middle of the book on page one, then I have to wait half the book to figure out what was up with that....have to go back and read misplaced literary fashion statement...now I am annoyed so I speed read the rest.

    Any of these things can work if done well on occasion, but I am tired of them being the new "standard". It's as dull and predictable as three pages of sunset.

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