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What are the Key Elements of Drama? Why is Hamlet so dramatic? What makes a murder mystery like The Mousetrap so compelling?
Many people have written about what constitutes drama. One of the first and most influential was Aristotle, who concluded that there were 6 elements to drama: plot, character, thought, diction, spectacle and song.
Since then many people have had their say. What about symbols and metaphors? Or mood and atmosphere? Are tension and suspense important? Are these key elements of drama?
When you see an amazing show at the theatre, you may leave thinking “What made that so great? Why did that play move me or make me nervous?” A play, film or TV show can only become great when all the key elements of drama work together.
In this blog we’ll explore some of the key elements of drama and what makes them so important to the way we tell stories.
The plot is about the order of events and the progression of the play. Without a plot, it is difficult to create a compelling drama. To a large extent, the success of a dramatic play depends on how the events of the play unfold. Plot is essential to drama because it takes the audience on a journey. We become immersed and want to know the outcome.
A plot can have many shapes. It is often represented as a curve in a graph, as the plot builds up to a climax and then returns to some new state of calm and stability. Plot is not just about one thing happening after another. In a good play, each action or event happens for a reason. A plot can serve a theme and will influence the growth or decline of the characters.
Aristotle identified plot and character as the two most important elements of drama. And still today you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes that plot is not a key element of drama.
If Plot = What, then Character = Who. The protagonists, the antagonists, and the supporting cast are essential to drama. They are the elements of plays, TV shows and films that audiences can connect to.
They make decisions, influence the plot and inhabit the fictional universe that has been created by the writers, directors and crew. By merely looking at the list of characters in Romeo and Juliet you will be able to see how the relationships between characters influence the plot, the tension and the atmosphere in stories and how they form a key element of drama.
The director Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” You can hold an audience’s attention if they are anticipating something scary, or significant or dramatic. This is tension.
Will Romeo and Juliet get together and live happily ever after? Although the relationship may seem doomed from the beginning, Shakespeare creates tension in the way their story unfolds. You want the audience to be asking, “What will happen next?” And this is best achieved through tension and suspense. If the audience is not interested in what happens next then it is difficult to create true drama.
Stories can be elevated through language. A play can have a simple plot and uncomplicated characters but can become compelling and beautiful through the use of language. With language you can hide clues, inspire humour and create subtext.
Characters express themselves with language, action is propelled with words and tension can be built through conversations. Language is also a key element of drama because it can connect with people in unique ways.
Aristotle’s fifth element of drama was Spectacle, which is about the setting and what the audience sees. Drama needs a visual element. Spectacle and atmosphere can bring new meaning to the language and characters.
Atmosphere and spectacle can make a drama memorable. Often when you go to see a play or watch a film you will remember how it made you feel.
Throughout the years the plot, character and language of Shakespeare’s play might remain the same but theatre companies will experiment with staging and visuals to create a fresh and exciting spectacle or atmosphere.
What Makes Great Drama?
Drama is created when all these key elements come together. In some plays, TV shows or films, they might focus more on one element than the other. But both character-driven and plot-driven stories require creative and competent people to make them work.
Plot, character, tension, language and spectacle are evident in all of the best plays, TV shows and films. These elements form the basis of any great drama and it is interesting to see how different artists use them to tell a story.
Meta-description: What makes a great dramatic play, film or TV show? What is the special ingredient? In this blog learn about the key elements of drama.
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