I’m borrowing this phrase from one of my favorite animated shows. Conflict is the heart of drama, but too often I see conflict that doesn’t make any damn sense being the driving force of drama. When the conflict doesn’t make sense, the drama is, well, less than dramatic and in fact is often annoying as I find myself yelling at the characters, “Hey, stupid, don’t do that!”
1) For Their Own Good – this scenario crops up a LOT in superhero comics concerning secret identities, but it shows up elsewhere. Basically, one half of a person in a relationship knows something that would be devastating to the other person and keeps it secret. Now, this does have a lot of good potential for drama as it touches on themes of trust, betrayal, and respect. What bothers me is when the person withholding the information has no good reason to do so. I don’t mean that we as the audience know there is no reason (for example, the withholdee actually already knows but the withholder does not). I am referring to when it just doesn’t make sense for the withholder to do so. For example, the withholder has up until this point told the withholdee all sorts of potentially devastating secrets and just this once decides not to say anything.
A sub-entry is “For Their Protection” which is the case when the withholder of information believes that sharing with the withholdee would get that person killed. That seems logical enough, right? However, if, for example, the villain wants to kill everyone in the end, why would the withholder not share the information? I recently watched a television show in which a male character ends up cursed by the villain to be prevented from expressing his feelings to his love interest because if he does, that would destroy her and allow the villain to win. The villain tells him he can’t tell the love interest about this curse or she’ll kill the love interest, to which he replies that if the villain could have killed the love interest she would have already done so. In his conversation with the villain, who wants to kill everyone in the show, the male character lays out exactly why it doesn’t make any sense to not tell the love interest what happened. And yet he decides not to tell her!
2) Will They/Won’t They – strictly a romantic situation and a very, very common one. While it certainly does generate drama to see two characters who are clearly in love with each other somehow not get together, after a while this tension becomes grating. After all, if they are so compatible, why don’t they get together? The writers have to strain credibility to keep putting the characters in situations where they seemed don’t get together. This usually includes obviously unsuitable suitors, outrageous coincidences, or total tragedy, all of which just mainly serve as distractions. Distractions are not drama, at least not when they are so obvious.
3) Miscommunication is the Mother of Misery – perhaps the foundation of all sitcom premises is the hilarious miscommunication. Basically, one person misunderstand some crucial bit of information about another person and reacts according to this misinformation, which is of course completely at odds with how they would normally act. I really hate this situation because there is no reason that people who are friends won’t just talk to each other and find out what’s really going on, which is true in comedies or dramas.
4) Drama Llama – that character who is the center of drama and does nothing but create drama around him/her by:
a) always taking a comment the wrong way
b) always misunderstanding what’s going on
c) deliberately spreading misinformation about what is going on
Common expressions of this character include the Nosy Neighbor, the Ditz, or Mean Girl, or the Schemer. I would think after a while a group of people would become accustomed to the Ditz and know not to take anything s/he says at face value. Likewise the Mean Girl or Schemer, and in fact I wonder why a group of people would keep the Mean Girl or Schemer around if they didn’t have to. But humans are weird; still, after a while you’d think people would learn not to trust the Schemer anymore than the Ditz. In the worst cases, the people involved have learned not to trust their untrustworthy friends, but do so because the plot demands it even if that action is totally out of character.
Overall – I know that in fiction all drama is in fact contrived. As the author, I design the world, the characters, and the conflict that drives the story. But the ensuing drama should never feel contrived. The characters’ actions and reactions should be consistent and make sense within the context of the story.