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When I think of melodrama, I think of Dudley DoRight saving the helpless female who has been tied to the railroad tracks by the evil villain. The hero rides up on his horse shouting, "Here I come to save the day!"

Melodrama, as a genre, was a staple of Victorian theater. It took on a negative connotation when electric lights were introduced and the stages were brightly lit. Actors no longer had to use such dramatic makeup or exaggerated gestures.

The tropes included a thoroughly evil villain and sinless hero who saves the equally virtuous heroine from peril.

The villain had nefarious henchmen. The hero and heroine had noble servants, friends, family members, and associates.

As the villain worked his evil plan and the hero worked to overcome him, they were able to explore the plight of the poor, the challenges of the working classes, royal foibles, and the extravagances of the aristocracy.

The hero always defeated the villain. The hero and heroine always ended up together.

In short, standard fictional fare.

Then why is feedback stating a story or scene is "melodramatic" a bad thing?

It could be for one of several reasons:

1. The characters are too one-dimensional and stereotypical.

Fix this by giving your characters depth. They should not be either entirely good or entirely bad. Give them interesting, believable motivations.

2. The dialogue is exaggerated or over the top, perhaps ornate purple prose.

There is more in what people don't say than in the words they speak. Make sure your dialogue isn't on the nose. Imbue it with subtlety and nuance. Avoid lecherous pronouncements, grandiose speeches, and "as you know, Sally" dialogue.

3. The plot point is annoying rather than exciting.

Overt conflict is fine some of the time, but there are many types of conflict. Make sure you utilize them all: internal, external, antagonist, and interpersonal. Avoid "stock scenes" such as the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, the heroine who stumbles while being chased, and macho bragging. Some plot points have been overdone. Don't exaggerate them to the point of stretching credulity either.

4. The characters' reactions or gestures lack subtlety.

Victorian actors were forced to exaggerate their movements so the audience could see them. The gesture often came before the delivery of the line to announce, "I am about to say something important!"

Your verbal camera moves in close when a character is speaking and reacting. It picks up intimate body language. Use it judiciously. The smallest gesture can speak louder than shouting or punching a wall. Avoid wiggling eyebrows, stroking mustaches, and rolling eyes.

5. The theme is too simplistic or exaggerated.

The thematic argument at the heart of your story should feature shades of gray. Often, the antagonist advocates one extreme answer to the question, the hero the opposite. It is more interesting to watch both of them struggle with ambiguity or doubt. Explore all sides of a thematic argument by pulling in your friends and foes.

When crafting your story, strive for drama not melodrama. You don't want your readers to give you the hook.

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