10 Tips For Writing Believable Drama

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Using my unreleased manuscript An Angel On Her Shoulder, I am showing you my techniques for reworking a story into a more readable, more enjoyable piece. It’s 45+ lessons in about 45 days. (To start at Chapter 1, click HERE.)

To view it best, bring up the two versions in different windows and view them side by side to see what was changed.

Then give me your thoughts in the comment section.

 

DRAMA

You’ve probably gotten tired of hearing the phrase “this is tricky” from me, but it’s true. As J. K. Rowling said, you’re going to kill a lot of trees before you get it right. I’ll give you my thoughts below, so as not to spoil too much of what you’re about to read.


Chapter 18 “FINAL”

“Oh my God.” Mallory sunk to the floor, holding the counter top with one hand to keep from falling completely. “Oh my God!”

Her face turned gray.

I rushed past the broken ceramic bits allover the kitchen tiles. “Honey, what’s wrong?” Squatting next to her, I put my hands on her face and looked into her eyes. “What is it? What happened?”

Sparkles barked, on high alert. He ran through the broken pieces of coffee cup. I grabbed him and picked him up.

“No, no, NO!” Mallory screamed, slapping the floor. She was almost gasping now. “I . . .” Then tears the started. She looked up at me with a fearful face.

“What is it?” I pleaded, my heart in my throat. “Tell me.”

“The dream,” she said, shaking her head. “The dream you were talking about, with the lions . . .”

“Oh, that? That was, that . . .” I wanted to sound dismissive. That dream had kept me up all night. I didn’t want it to bother her. I must been telling it too intensely. “That was just—”

“No.” She choked, barely getting her words out. “I had it, too.”

It was like a punch to my gut. I staggered backwards. “Wh- what? What did you . . .”

She sobbed with each syllable. “I had the same dream. The lions. In the woods.” Tears streamed down her face. “Tearing open a white package.” Her voice cracked. “Four of them. It’s the same dream you just described. I’ve been having the same dream!”

I sat, my mouth hanging open, unable to process what I was hearing.

“I’ve been having that same dream for weeks.” Mallory whispered fiercely. “Weeks!”

“You . . .” I swallowed. “You must have told me about it.”

She shook her head slowly, yesterday’s mascara blackening the sides of her face. “No. I never mentioned it. Never.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded, her eyes wide. “I never said a word. On purpose.” She looked down. “I thought I was going crazy.”

“You’re not crazy.” Stepping over the broken mug, I rubbed her shoulders. “If you are, I am. And I’m not.” I whispered, kissing her cheek. “But I wonder what it means. I woke up just when the big lion started ripping—”

“Don’t!” Mallory pushed me away and grabbed her ears. “Don’t say it! I can’t hear it right now! Not with all that’s been going on.”

“About the package?”

“Don’t!”

“Shhh. Okay, okay.” I hugged her tightly, then leaned back to look into her eyes. “Listen, just . . . just tell me what you saw.” I spoke slowly and cautiously, stroking her back. “Let’s move to where there’s less broken stuff.”

I held her arm and guided her to the kitchen table, pulling out a chair. “What was your dream? Can you tell me?”

Eyes squeezed shut, she nodded.

“In my dream, the last lion rips into the package. But it turns out not to be a package at all. Is that your dream, too?” Sliding into the chair across from here, I took a deep breath. “What was in the package in your dream?”

She dabbed at her eyes with the bottom of her shirt. “It wasn’t a package.”

I nodded, waiting.

“It was . . . a baby.” Her head dropped into her arms and she collapsed on the table. “Our baby! It was Sophie! God, what kind of people have dreams about an animal killing their own daughter?” Her shoulders shook with each heavy sob. “My baby was just there and the lions were just attacking her and . . .”

There were no words, just a low, pained moan that squeezed out between the uncontrollable crying.

I took her hand in mine and stroked it. I wasn’t sure what to do. My heart was thumping away inside me, but—

“Mommy?”

We both looked over at the doorway to the kitchen. Sophie stood there with a terrified expression on her face.

“Oh, no!” Mallory leaped up and ran to our daughter, scooping her up.

Sophie’s cheeks glistened with tears. “Mommy, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

“No, sweetie,” Mallory lied, hugging our daughter. “Mommy’s not crying. Mommy has a cold.”

“Do you need the nebbalizer?”

“The what, baby?” Mallory sniffled and pushed her hair behind her ears, forcing herself back from the brink.

“When I was sick, I had to take—I have to use the nebbalizer.”

Nebulizer.” Mallory wiped her eyes, smiling. “No, sweetie, mommy doesn’t have to use the nebulizer. Mommy isn’t sick like that.”

“I wasn’t feeling good before,” I said. “And now Mommy isn’t feeling good. So it would really help a lot if you gave her a hug. A really big hug.”

Sophie complied, burying her face in her mother’s shoulder.

They stood, eyes closed, rocking back and forth for a moment, as if they would never let each other go ever again.

“Mmmm! I love you. You’re so sweet.” Mallory cooed to Sophie, kissing her. “I would never let anything happen to you.” Then she turned to me.

“Go!” She ordered. “Go now! See whoever you need to see.” She stood firmly in her kitchen with our daughter in her arms. “You find out whatever you have to find out. We have to figure out how to fix this thing, how to handle this thing, whatever it takes.”

Her voice grew more forceful as she clutched Sophie tighter. “Call the church, get whoever you talked to. Call them right now!”

She’d had enough.

“Call your church guy or find somebody else who can help us.”

Standing amongst the pieces of broken coffee mug, the objective was as clear as the morning light streaming in the windows.

“Find someone who can tell us what the hell is going on.”


 

Original Chapter 18, An Angel On Her Shoulder

 

“Oh my God, oh my God!” Michele shouted.

Her face was gray. She gripped the countertop so she would not fall.

“Hey, honey, it’s okay, it’s just a coffee cup…” I said absently as I opened the door to let Buddy in. I picked the dog up so he wouldn’t run through the broken porcelain mug that now lay in pieces on the kitchen floor.

“No, no, NO!” Michele screamed, pounding the counter. I looked at her. She was almost gasping now.

“I…” she began. Then tears the started. She looked up at him with a fearful face.

“What is it?” I pleaded. I was confused, and starting to worry now.

“The dream,” she said. “The dream you were talking about, with the lions…”

“Oh, that?” I interrupted, dismissively. “That was just – ”

“I had it too!” She said.

I was shocked. “What?”

“I had the same dream. The lions. In the woods. Four of them. Ripping open a package.” Tears were now streaming down her face. Her voice broke. “I’ve been having the same dream!”

I stood there, shocked, listening.

“I had the exact same dream!” Michele whispered fiercely. “I’ve been having that same dream for weeks!”

That surprised me. “Well, then, you must have told me about it,” I said, trying to shrug it off and calm her down. “That’s probably what put the dream into my head.”

She shook her head slowly. “No. I never mentioned it. Never.”

“Are you sure?” I was completely baffled.

She nodded, eyes wide. “I never said a word. On purpose.” She looked down. “I thought I was going crazy…”

I stepped over the broken mug to comfort her, rubbing her shoulders. “You’re not crazy. If you are, I am. And I’m not.”

“But I wonder what it means,” I wondered aloud. “I woke up just when the big lion started ripping – ”

“Don’t!” Michele grabbed her ears. “Don’t say it! I can’t hear it right now! Not with all that’s been going on.”

“About the package?”

Don’t!”

“Shhh… Okay, okay,” I said tenderly, holding out his hands, “Listen, just tell me what you saw.” I spoke slowly, cautiously, gently rubbing her back. “Let’s sit down.

I held her arm as we moved to the kitchen table. “What was your dream? Tell me. In my dream, the last lion rips into the package. But it turns out not to be a package at all. Is that your dream, too?”

Eyes squeezed shut, she nodded.

“What was in the package in your dream?” I whispered.

She dabbed at her eyes with the bottom of her shirt. “It wasn’t a package.”

I waited.

“It was… a baby.” She blurted out. Her head dropped into her arms and she collapsed on the table. “Our baby! It was Savvy!”

She began to sob. “My baby was just there and the lions were just attacking her and tearing her to pieces!”

I took her hand into mine, stroking it as she sobbed. I wasn’t sure what the hell to do.

“Mommy?”

We both looked over at the doorway to the kitchen. There stood Savvy with a terrified look on her face.

“Oh, no!” Michele leaped up and ran past the pieces of broken mug, scooping her up. Savvy began to cry.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Savvy said. “Are you crying?”

“No, sweetie,” Michele lied, hugging her daughter. “Mommy’s not crying. Mommy has a cold.”

“Do you need the nebbalizer?” Savvy said, mispronouncing it.

“The what, baby?” forcing herself back from the brink.

“When I was sick, I had to take, I have to use the nebbalizer.”

“Nebulizer,” Michele corrected, with a laugh. “No, sweetie, mommy doesn’t have to use the nebulizer.” She wiped her eyes. “Mommy isn’t sick like that.”

I chimed in. “I wasn’t feeling good before, and now Mommy isn’t feeling good… So it would really help a lot if you gave her a big hug. A really big hug.”

Savvy complied. They stood, rocking back and forth for a moment, in a big hug, tears stopped and then flowing again.

“Mmmm, I love you, you’re so sweet,” Michele cooed to Savvy, kissing her. “I would never let anything happen to you.”

Then she turned to me.

“Go!” She ordered. “Go now! See whoever you need to see.” She stood firmly in her kitchen with our daughter in her arms. “Find out whatever you have to find out. We have to figure out how to fix this thing, how to handle this thing, what to do.”

Her voice grew more forceful, as she clutched Savvy tighter. “Call the church, get whoever you talked to. Call him right now!”

She’d had enough.

“Call your church guy or find somebody else who can help us.”

Standing amongst the pieces of broken coffee mug, the morning light streaming in the windows, the objective was obvious.

“Find someone who can tell us what the hell is going on!”


ANALYSIS

Drama Takes Practice 

What I will tell you about writing drama is this:

  • 1. Outline the scene. Sketch out in your head what’s going to happen. The glass is going to break, the wife is going to break down, the husband is going to console her, the daughter is going to walk in.
  • 2. Now, imagine that scene as it plays out on the imaginary TV screen that is your head. The characters are going to see things and say things. But
  • 3. they’re also going to feel things. And whatever it is they would be feeling, simply imagine yourself as one of them hearing it. Be Doug when Mallory says one of her lines. How would he take it and what would he say – that keeps with your outline? 
  • 4. Don’t be afraid to stammer, or to start with one word and then change and and go in a different direction. That’s what people do in real life. Perfect lines of speech make for perfectly dull characters.
  • 5. But don’t go full dialect. A little spice in the dialogue soup  goes a long way. And too much reality talk is bad. Real conversation is horribly cluttered when we write it down verbatim. Be snappy but “real” sounding.
  • 6. Don’t be afraid to show your characters are confused or afraid, by thinking about what somebody you know’s face looks like when they are confused or sad. Think of the face they give you and describe it. 
  • 7. Don’t go crazy with TEARS. Yes, we cry tears. But not every other line. Use tears sparingly, and substitute in other words that also happen when you cry. Sniffling. Can’t get words out. Voice breaks. Wipe your eyes. Mascara cheeks. On and on. Then, tired red eyes.

Then come through one more time with our stagecraft like we talked about in the prior post.

When the daughter walks in, it needs to catch everybody by surprise. Did I do a good job of that?

Finally, after you sketch it out for the bones and go back and add in the physical actions, go back again and fill in the emotions,

  • 8. Read it out loud to yourself and try to imagine it as you are saying it, to see if it makes a cohesive scene. You’ll hear repetitive words and redundant emotions described. Fix em. You’ll look like a genius to your critique partners.
  • 9. Then let it sit for a few days, maybe a week, and look at it again. Odds are you’ll see some things to change. Change them.

It’s an art not a science, and people have been doing drama for thousands of years. There’s a reason. Audiences like drama. Don’t be afraid to go there. If you get it wrong, nobody reaches through the Internet and punches you in the nose. If you get it right…

  • 10. If you can  bold and brave and put it out there as raw and real as you can make it, you will be rewarded.

Dig deep inside the pain we’ve all felt and paint it onto the page.

Now:

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Let me have your comments. The next chapters will post tomorrow but they will ALL come down shortly after February 15, so don’t dawdle!

You are readers, too. Your input will shape the final product. Be honest.

Share and reblog these! Your friends need to know this stuff, too.

Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to get your copy of The Navigators – $2.99 or FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Available in paperback and audio book, too!

13 thoughts on “10 Tips For Writing Believable Drama

  1. I have really enjoyed watching you construct (or is that de-construct?) this story. A brilliant idea of yours, BTW. But I wonder if you might be shooting yourself in the foot just a little here? By the time we have all finished reading it on your blog, will we still want to buy a copy? Just saying…

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s worth the risk. I figure, I’m doing this anyway; I might as well show you guys what it is I do.

      Most of you will be offered the completed manuscript as a free copy for beta reading purposes, so there’s no harm in you seeing it now.

      Most future readers of the book won’t know about the blog, so they’ll buy it. Many won’t mind paying a few bucks for being able to read it straight through without clicking all over a website. For those that do, it’s here, and they had a chance to read it for free!

      I might take down a bunch of the chapters in the second half of the story, so it’s not all there…

      Mainly I was discussing publishing the book and also publishing these posts as a separate workbook, basically exactly as they are, to show new writers step by step what to do when they edit and rewrite. The novel would cost $2.99 initially, going up to $4.99 after a year; the workbook would start at $19.99 and possibly become the basis for a webinar. I’d add video clips of me (maybe with a select few other author friends) discussing the segments, why we did what we did, and what’s to g=be gained in the process.

      As you’ve seen, the lesson being highlighted each time isn’t the only revision happening in the chapter.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying it! Thanks for the kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Riveting and LOVED that Sophie tempered everything, brought it back into the present moment. This reminds me of a writing class I took 30 years ago.It was presented by The Screen Writers Guild. I still have the notes and I refer to them often. Because of the way you are presenting this information, I am actually taking in your lessons.It’s the examples that make all the difference. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Awesome to hear that! I agree, it’s so much better to see examples in front of you. That’s why I decided to do this series this way. My editor said, “You’re gonna put out the first draft with it? Wow…” That made me know it was the right thing to do. Be brave. Show we all have flaws and all make improvements. Show how it happens, side by side. Glad you’re enjoying this!

      Liked by 1 person

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