6.1: Drama as a Genre
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Like fiction, drama features characters caught up in a plot. In fact,
some plays have been based on novels, and novels on plays. Yet, whereas
the narrator of a novel can spend pages painting a picture of the story’s
circumstances for the reader, a play is restricted to the space of the stage
and the time frame of a couple of hours. What strategies are available to
the playwright to ensure that the play successfully conveys its intended
effects and themes?
To provide the story’s setting, a play requires sets. If you’ve ever been
involved with a play, you know that the set can be made up of detailed
backdrops, specifically designed props, strategic lighting, and sometimes
even background noise. A set, along with the characters’ subtle indications
of the scene, can generate a full setting in the audience’s imagination.
Another difference between fiction and drama is that usually a play’s
plot is primarily forwarded through dialogue and action. Although a novel’s
narrator can describe in detail the thoughts and impressions of its characters,
a play’s effects depend much more heavily on what the characters say and
do. A play is a performance, a spectacle, rather than words on paper. Some
plays do include a narrator or a chorus, to introduce the scene or set the tone
of the play, but the bulk of the production’s effect is generated through the
dialogue and its visual devices, and since the play’s script dictates what
the characters will say and often, through stage direction, its production
strategies as well, the script is crucial to a successful performance.