Melodrama [Part 2 of 2]: 5 Tips for Cutting


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Last week I shared 6 ways to spot melodrama in your writing. This week we are going to talk about some tips for cutting melodrama. First, here’s a quick refresher of the definition:

Melodrama [noun]:
drama in which many exciting events happen and the characters have very strong or exaggerated emotions

The kindest thing you can do for your writing—and your readers—is to cut the heart right out of your melodramatic passages using these techniques:

  • Check the emotional intensity: Your first order of business is to go through your scenes looking specifically at the emotional content. Are people fist-fighting and launching soap-opera style accusations at each other? Are lovers a little too profuse in their expressions? Are your characters saying too much about their feelings rather than demonstrating them? Try to take the temperature of the emotional content of a scene. If it feels too hot, bring it down.
  • Rework dialogue: Go over your dialogue with a fine-tooth comb and read it aloud until it sounds like things people might actually say to each other. Read it to someone else or have someone else read it to you. This is one of the best ways to check dialogue. It can still be stylized, but it should sound believable, and it should not make your readers want to gag.
  • Smooth out character behavior: Take the diva or the preening prince out of your characters. Get to know who they really are so that their behavior stems from true motivations is not just empty behavior. Characters should act within their framework and should not be exaggerated.
  • Ground gestures in reality: In similar fashion, your characters can be bold and passionate, but think twice about having them do things that are too implausible or over the top. Readers will not be able to relate to your characters if they find their actions unbelievable.
  • Equalize characters: Try not to make one character so much larger than life that he or she seems out of proportion to the others. Villains often get very colorful in first drafts, since villainy is so much fun to write. But if your bad guy outshines your good guy in his speech and behavior, the scene will feel off kilter, and the reader will become confused about which character to pledge allegiance to.

What do you think?
These are obviously not the only places to cut melodrama. Can you think of any others?

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