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The Home for Christian Writers!

Melodrama

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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glorybee
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Melodrama

Postby glorybee » Sat May 07, 2016 8:25 am

In an effort to make their writing compelling, interesting, or exciting, some writers make the mistake of going overboard—writing with too much melodrama. Unfortunately, melodrama makes one’s writing seem either dated or amateurish, and it’s best avoided. Melodramatic writing is characterized by the following:

1. Purple prose. I’ve written about that here, so I’ll recommend that you head over to that lesson if this phrase is unfamiliar to you

2. Depiction of extreme emotion that is an over-reaction to the circumstances. In melodramatic writing, a mild irritant might cause a character to wail or punch the wall, and a pleasant taste might have them moaning with delight. In real life, people are generally more level-headed than this; save the strong emotions for events that warrant them. If your character goes into paroxysms of laughter at their child’s knock-knock joke, what’s left for them to do when something really funny happens? Besides, using extreme emotions in non-extreme circumstances can cause your characters to seem somewhat demented.

By the way, this seems like a good place to remind you that exclamation points should be used almost never within your narrative. Save exclamation points for strong emotional utterances, which leads me to the next point.

3. Dialogue that’s overly formal, stiff, archaic, or flowery, or otherwise inappropriate to the speaker’s age or circumstances. In a scene where a child falls down, the melodramatic writer might have her mother saying something like: “Oh my goodness, darling! Have you injured your little hand?” while a real mother is more likely to say, “You okay, kiddo?”

4. Overuse of similes and metaphors, and overly fancy words to depict ordinary things. In prose, an occasional subtle use of simile or metaphor to establish atmosphere is fine. But the sky doesn’t always have to be heavy and menacing, with sleet descending on the characters like myriad icy needles piercing their tender flesh. Sometimes, it’s just a bad storm.

5. Unrealistic events in a genre that purports to depict reality (in other words, it’s not fantasy, sci-fi, or allegory); over-dependence on amazing coincidence or contrived plot devices. Please don’t misunderstand; sometimes a coincidence is exactly what is needed to move the plot along, and sometimes you need a plot device (I’m actually thinking that a lesson on plot devices might be good, because there are too many to go into here). But the standard in contemporary literature leans more toward realism, and when you pile on the coincidences, your credibility suffers and you cheat your readers out of a well-written and credible resolution.

6. Main characters who suffer misfortune upon misfortune upon misfortune.

There is certainly a place for temperate use of everything I’ve just covered. I’m not saying that you can’t have fancy words, or strong emotions, or coincidences, for example. The key is not to have those things overused or too extreme.

I’m currently editing a manuscript (not by a FaithWriter; no one who’s likely to see this post) that’s very melodramatic. I wouldn’t feel right posting an excerpt here without the writer’s permission, and I’d feel funny asking her for permission to use her writing as an example of too much melodrama. But I had her writing in mind as I listed those six points above. I’m having to be pretty brutal with her MS, slashing and editing and rewriting far more than she’s comfortable with, all because everything is just totally over the top.

Here’s an example (written by me, intentionally bad) of what melodramatic writing might look like:

***
Jan entered the library, tossing her auburn curls and flashing her cerulean blue eyes as the heady aroma of paper and ink flooded her nostrils. How I passionately adore books! she thought. She chuckled silently to herself, shoulders shaking, as the memories of childhood hours spent reading in the solitude of her blanket fort flitted across her cerebrum. She had been a lonely child, with as many freckles on her cheeks and arms as there are ants in a busy colony. The other children had teased her—relentlessly, mercilessly—and as those new memories now brushed her consciousness, she silently clenched a fist in frustration. I shan’t let my tormentors bother me anew! I’m free of them now! Free!

She strode to the aisle where her heart resided—illustrated books of birds, their irridescent colors murmuring to her soul—and clutched an ancient tome to her breast, her breath catching in anticipation of turning the lovely, vellum-like pages. But she gasped as if she’d taken a solid fist to her solar plexus when she saw who was seated in her favorite teal velvet armchair, trimmed in intricately carved oak…

***
I was going to color-code the sample of bad writing to correspond with the six points above, but I actually think it might be more helpful for you to try to pick out examples of each of the points for yourself. (As an additional exercise, you might want to re-write this little scene without the melodrama.)

There’s not much else to say about this kind of writing—but if you think it might be something you’re prone to, you might want to have a few people give you feedback after you ask them to look for some of the above points. I think melodrama is more likely to show up among writers who:

…read a lot in the genres that tend toward melodrama (romance, and to a lesser extent, historical fiction and sword-and-dragon fantasy)

…read books that were published many decades ago or in previous centuries; melodrama was more popular in years past

…are young writers, or just starting out in their writing journey

If you fit into any of those categories, be especially vigilant about melodrama showing up in your fiction.

This isn’t really homework, but if you’d like to get feedback on any of the following, post them here and I’ll get to you (usually within a few hours):

1. Examples of any of the six major points of the lesson, either from my own terrible writing sample or written by you, OR
2. The terrible writing sample above re-written without the melodrama, OR
3. A link to something you’ve written, if you’re not sure if you’ve fallen into melodrama. I won’t be able to give it a full critique, but if it’s melodramatic, I’ll point out a few places that need to be toned down a bit.
4. As always, ideas for future lessons are welcomed.

Joanne, thanks so much for your excellent lessons on writing picture books for children over the past two weeks!
Jan Ackerson -- Follow me, friend me, give me a wave!
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Re: Melodrama

Postby itsjoanne » Sat May 07, 2016 11:17 am

Great lesson - and you're welcome. It was fun. :)

It is sometimes fun to have a single melodramatic character in a story (I think I may have done that purposely for the challenge once - gonna go look - UPDATE - found it! http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=20099), but it can DEFINITELY be overdone.

And I think a lesson on plot devices would be WONDERFUL.

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Re: Melodrama

Postby glorybee » Sat May 07, 2016 11:24 am

itsjoanne wrote:Great lesson - and you're welcome. It was fun. :)

It is sometimes fun to have a single melodramatic character in a story (I think I may have done that purposely for the challenge once - gonna go look - UPDATE - found it! http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=20099), but it can DEFINITELY be overdone.



You're right, Joanne, and that reinforces a point that I frequently make in these lessons:

There are few absolute rules in the art of writing. Good writers break rules or disregard suggestions (like those in these lessons) frequently, for the sake of plot or characterization. The key is to do it with full knowledge of the rule, and to do it with intention and the full knowledge of the effect your act of rebellion will have on your audience.
Jan Ackerson -- Follow me, friend me, give me a wave!
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Re: Melodrama

Postby hwnj » Fri May 20, 2016 11:56 pm

Not sure if I got rid of all of it, but...

Jan entered the library, tossing her auburn curls and flashing her cerulean eyes as the aroma of paper and ink flooded her nostrils. How I adore books! she thought. She chuckled to herself, as the memories of childhood hours spent reading in the solitude of her blanket fort flitted across her mind. She had been a lonely child, with as many freckles on her cheeks and arms as there are ants in a busy colony. The other children had teased her—relentlessly, and as those memories surfaced, she silently clenched a fist in frustration. I won’t let my tormentors bother me anew! I’m free of them now!

She strode to the aisle where her heart resided—illustrated books of birds, their irridescent colors murmuring to her soul—and clutched a favorite volume to her breast. But she gasped as if she’d taken a fist to her solar plexus when she saw who was seated in her favorite armchair…
Holly

"There are two ways of spreading light -- to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it." Edith Wharton

'It is better to be liked for the true you, than to be loved for who people think you are.'

"In order to realize the worth of the anchor, one needs to feel the stress of the storm." Daily Encouragement Net (Stephen & Brooksyne Weber)

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