DZ-67: Writing “Passive” Protagonists & Melodrama

How do I tell a powerful story where the protagonist cannot drive the plot?

Stu and Chas are joined by Stephen Cleary following his exploration into Melodrama, and together they try to reclaim the word from its pejorative meaning.

By examining powerful Melodramas – like THE HANDMAID’S TALE, LADIES IN BLACK and STRANGER THINGS… with many a tangent on MARRIAGE STORY, PETE’S DRAGON, MILDRED PIERCE, GAME OF THRONES, LOST, THE JOKER, THE KILLING, THE WITCHER, war movies and survival films – the three hosts try to unpick what makes Melodrama an alternate story paradigm to the Hero’s Journey.

They delve into how Melodramas centre on characters that don’t have agency; where the plot happens to characters (as opposed to being driven by them); how Melodramas don’t end so much as close; and how all of the above delves into character questions more deeply than the Hero’s Journey. And to wrap it all up, the kind of techniques you use on the page to write effective melodramas.

CW: There is a lot of discussion in this episode about melodrama being associated with “women’s stories” vs the “hero’s journey” – which is biased towards a ‘masculine’ mode of storytelling – and we fully acknowledge in the show and here that we are three cismen talking about these things.  

This episode was edited by Christopher Walker. Audio excerpts used for educational purposes only.

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