Elements of Dramatic Scriptwriting
The 21st-century audience, craving originality with each media consumption, has a tendency to insist upon those aspects of a screenwriter’s work in which they least resemble anyone else. But no script has its complete meaning alone; its significance and appreciation must be set for comparison and contrast among the broader genre.
Dramatic screenplays – conflict-driven, heart-wrenching, and serious yet toeing the line between comedy and tragedy – span genres from investigative crime to illicit romance. The sub-genres of Dramatic scriptwriting include romantic dramas, historical dramas, legal/procedural dramas, crime dramas, medical dramas, science-fiction dramas and docudramas. These are indicative of the fact that you cannot limit Dramatic screenplays to settings or time periods.
What matters is the tone! High stakes, attention-grabbing, and brevity are hallmarks of this form of scriptwriting. We have all felt waves of emotion for the beautifully dramatised and executed classics like The Godfather, Titanic and Citizen Kane, which were all dramatic screenplays. Fun fact: In the last 80 years of the Oscars, 50% of all ‘Best Picture’ awardees have been Dramas. To get your film up there in that elite slice of entertainment gold, keep reading to learn the elements of dramatic screenplays!
As a medium of writing, Drama originated in Ancient Greece, but the Netflix era has shifted the setting from amphitheatres to sound stages and the audience’s living rooms. However, the essential elements of dramatic screenplays have maintained their presence through the ages. You may be familiar with Aristotle’s 6 elements of Drama, as asserted in his seminal philosophical treatise on dramatic structure, Poetics. He argued that the evolution of dramatic storytelling relied on the following constituents:
● Plot: The driving force of the story, thickening and rising into a climax as it moves forward.
● Characters: The colourful cast steers the plot to fruition with idiosyncratic traits. In Dramatic screenplays, characters are generally relatable and genuine, yet multi-layered and self-conflicted to add depth.
● Theme: The various overarching meanings and concepts encoded within the film. While deriving from real life, dramatic screenplays tend to have a historical sense of the genre and of the contents, giving it a fresh angle and further intriguing the audience.
● Dialogue: The character’s speech, ranging from one-liners to dramatic monologues. ● Song: The patterns of rhythm within a character’s speech and voice while they deliver their dialogue.
● Spectacle: The technical and visual components of a film, including special effects and sound effects alongside facial expressions and body language of the actors. Often, dramatic screenplays have a sweeping feeling to them, with big budgets, vast
locations, massive action and romance while maintaining levity, which all contribute to the spectacle!
While these components must be incorporated within your own dramatic screenplay, as a scriptwriter, you must keep in mind the basic plot structure of any tremendous dramatic screenplay.
1. Exposition: Introducing and laying out the land enough to familiarise the audience yet spark curiosity!
2. Rising Action: Conflict and tension are added to the mix as the character’s intentions and motivations are shown.
3. Climax: The height of suspense with an immense build-up of anticipation, complete with a turning point and difficult decisions.
4. Falling Action: Loose ends being tied up and demonstrating the consequences of actions post-climax.
5. (Optional) Momentary Rising Action: A plot twist! A sudden realisation! Something, not even the audience thought to consider…
6. Resolution: Coming full circle and understanding the impact or stakes from all the aforementioned high-stakes actions.
The use of a protagonist and the emphasis on their painful and strongly expressed emotions is key to a great dramatic screenplay, as it allows for identification and catharsis of the audience. Allowing them to empathise with the characters’ problems and pinpoint an underdog, even if it may be the villain of your story, will evoke an emotional response within the audience.
It is this emotional roller coaster that defines the dramatic structure to let the audience experience fantasies vicariously. Keep these elements in mind while drafting your script, filled to the brim with conflict and dramatic progression, and you’re sure to move your audience in a memorable, impactful way!