The ancient Greeks were the first to write in drama. Even though today's screenplays are no longer performed in Greek amphitheaters but on Hollywood soundstages instead, the elements that make up a good drama screenplay remain the very same.
What is a drama screenplay?
Drama separates tragedy from comedy. A drama could take place anywhere in time and space with any number of characters. Dramas tend to be serious and full of conflict. The stakes are constantly raised in dramas. The story of a drama can vary depending on its sub-genre, from a forbidden relationship to a crime investigation.
What is the basic structure of a dramatic screenplay?
Dramatic movies are characterized by a clearly-defined narrative plot structure. They also contain literary elements such as characters, style, and setting that can help the viewer analyze and interpret a story.
- Exposition Exposition is used to introduce and set the scene for your story. Outline main characters and their settings. Use a curious protagonist to explain plot points.
- Rising Action: The rising action is a series events that are used to introduce the story's conflict. They create tension, and lead up to the climax. In Shakespeare's Hamlet for example, the rising act occurs when Hamlet's dad's ghost informs him that Claudius killed him. Hamlet is now clear about his intention: to avenge death of father.
- Climax : Reach the point of turning for the protagonist. The climax usually occurs when the protagonist is forced to confront the truth or make a major decision.
- Falling actions : Show the outcome of the character's important choices. Falling action occurs when the loose ends are tied, tension is dissipated, and conflict resolves.
- Ending: Complete the story. How did the tension affect the characters and their world?
Aristotle's six elements of drama
Aristotle's Poetics, written around 335 B.C. The earliest philosophical treatise on dramatic structures is Aristotle's em>Poetics/em> (c. 335 B.C. Aristotle's laws and six dramatic elements remain relevant despite the technological advancements of film and television.
- A plot is a storyline or what happens on screen. Here's a guide to plot.
- The theme is the general meaning of a movie. Here you can learn about the different themes in movies.
- Characters are the actors who propel the plot. The 12 archetypal figures are listed here.
- Dialog: The words characters use in a movie. Here's our guide on writing dialogue.
- Song:Traditionally, the rhythmic voice of actors delivering their lines.
- Spectacle: The visual elements, technical elements, body language, facial movements, sound effects, special effects.
Six modern sub-genres of drama
Try out different sub-genres as you get more comfortable with dramatic writing.
- Historic drama a dramatic time piece, set atleast 25 years back in history and based on a historical event.
- Romantic Drama A drama that is centered on a complicated romance in which there are obstacles to the relationship between two people, such as family tensions or being married.
- Crime Drama, Legal Drama, and Procedural Drama: Dramas about the way crimes are solved.
- Medical Drama is a drama that takes place in a medical setting, such as a clinic, hospital or other medical facility.
- A sci-fi drama includes elements from science fiction. For example, a futuristic scene or advanced technology.
- Docudrama: Dramatic reenactments based on real events
Write a Dramatic Screenplay: 10 Tips
Here are some tips for improving your scenes.
- The first scene should contain the entire theme of the movie.
- The plot must be moved forward by each scene and sequence.
- At the beginning of each scene, clearly state what each character wants to achieve and any obstacles they face.
- Every scene should have a clear exposition, but this shouldn't interfere with the story.
- Every scene should have a clear and high stakes.
- Grab your audience as quickly as possible. You can drop them in the middle of two characters' conversation. This forces them to listen and catch up.
- When you introduce a new character to the audience, make sure that they know what the character wants.
- Your screenplay will be cluttered if a character has no desire.
- It is okay to be satisfied if the scene ends in a less dramatic way.
- You can use a previous question to help you decide what your next scene will be.
You can get inspiration from these 10 dramatic screenplays
The critically acclaimed Oscar-winning screenplays below have won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. You can use them to learn how to write a dramatic story.
- Citizen Kane (1941). A film that combines various storytelling techniques–flashbacks, multiple points of view, a non-linear narrative–into one film. Citizen Kane, one of first films to break away from linear storytelling and be groundbreaking when it was released.
- The Godfather (1972) was a classic movie. This movie turned gangster films on their head by looking at the mob as it was. The Godfather paved the way for a successful and long career of Francis Ford Coppola who wrote both the screenplay, as well directed.
- All The President's men (1976). This is one of most popular and well-received book-to film adaptations.
- Terms and Conditions (1983). The story spans over 30 years. A good example of blending humor with tragedy.
- Rain Man . The film is a character-driven story that centers on the relationship between two estranged brothers. One of them is a savant autistic.
- Schindler's list (1993). A revolutionary period piece about Holocaust.
- American Beauty . A film that analyzes American middle class culture and beauty standards.
- The everlasting radiance of a forgetful mind (2004). A film that combines multiple genres in a non-linear story.
- Facebook (2010). Aaron Sorkin's film uses the story of Facebook's origin to explore friendship, jealousy and class structure in society.
- BlacKkKlansman (2018). Spike Lee demonstrates how a biography can offer incisive commentary on current affairs.