Sunday, February 14, 2010


Is it me, or is the world becoming ridiculously melodramatic?

"Melodrama" comes from the Greek words for melody and theater. Literally, it's the use of music to heighten the emotional drama of a story. The word has come to be used for overly-emotional stories with one-dimensional characters.

I was at a writing workshop last fall where the presenter said there ought to be drama on every page, and that the protagonist ought to experience worse and worse dangers, right up to where you think, this is it, nothing worse can happen...and then it does.

What came to my mind was "Perils of Pauline"--a series of silent films done in 1914 and remade a few times since, where the heroine is a damsel in constant distress from an assortment of evil stock villains. Thing is, none of the remakes I've seen (and according to my dad, not even the 1933 version) was ever considered anything but satirical comedy. I'm guessing the original silents were comedies too. I mean, by the time Pauline, in the space of a half hour, has gone through enough dangers to give a normal human being PTSD 20 times over, you can't help but laugh at the absurdity. Not to mention the fact that she keeps doing the same stupid things over and over. This kind of melodrama can be great entertainment, but was never meant to be taken seriously.

The presenter of that workshop got me thinking about books I've read lately and TV shows and movies I've seen. Too many of them are too melodramatic and take themselves too seriously. And true to form, most of the visual media come complete with sappy background music. I usually reach the "Oh, please" limit fairly quickly. I'm never pulled into the story. I change channels or switch books.

Come to think of it, I'm a long time Star Trek fan, but stopped liking it when they changed the background music to angst-ridden brass chords (in the middle of Deep Space Nine season 2, if I remember correctly). Each year the writers would come up with more evil unbeatable foes. No more great imaginative plots like the one with the Groundhog-Day-like poker game that replayed itself 4 times. I loved that show.

Don't get me wrong--I don't object to melodrama. I just object to every single thing that attempts to tell me a story these days being sated with emotion. The sameness is BORING. Frankly, even the newscasts have gotten too dramatic. The last decade on local newscasts, I think I've heard the words "something went horribly wrong" more than 1000 times. After the 2nd time, it stopped enhancing the emotional drama. It became annoying. Kills me that their copywriters earn a living for being that unoriginal.

A story that needs that much drama to keep my attention is a poorly told story. Maybe not even a story worth telling. Don't put drama on every page, put a great story on every page and tell it in an engaging manner. The world has enough angst.


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