The writing of a play or any dramatic work differs from other types of writing. There are specific elements that are particular to writing a play. For thousands of years, since the time of Aristotle, there have been six fundamental elements to a play (Adair-Lynch). These elements are theme, action, characters, language, music, and spectacle (Adair-Lynch). When writing a fiction book, for example, the author must consider some of these elements, but not all. A fiction novel has a theme, or a plot, action that promotes that plot, characters who enact the plot, and is written in a style or uses certain language. However, the two additional elements that Aristotle asserts are required of dramatic productions includes music and spectacle. This essay examines these elements from the playwright’s perspective and from the audience’s perspective and also examines the different genres of dramatic works which leads to the conclusion that writing a dramatic work entails an extra degree of creativity that is not required of a book author.
The music in a play can be literal or figurative. What this means is that the music of a play occurs because the play is verbalized and is heard by an audience. Therefore, even the rhythm of the dialogue can count as music in a play (Adair-Lynch). Music is not necessarily a melody played by instruments but can be the way that an actor’s voice sounds, or the location of the sound of the actor, i.e., echoes from behind and off stage versus speaking directly to the audience. However, many plays do incorporate music in the performance and this music can add to the dramatic effect, can further the plot, or help the author with character development (Adair-Lynch). An example of how music can further character development would be the way that the music associates with a character such as happy music for the protagonist and scary music for the antagonist.
The spectacle element of a play is truly where there is a difference between writing for a book and writing a dramatic works. The spectacle element is that which involves any of the visual elements, such as costumes, scenery, and special effects (Adair-Lynch). It is through the spectacle element that the playwright is able to create an atmosphere for the audience, and it is the playwright’s vision which comes to life (Adair-Lynch). The spectacle element can be used to effectively promote the plot with unsaid visual aids—such as costumes that depict the antagonist and protagonist, a waiting weapon, or other visual aids that clue the audience in to what is happening without the actors having to say it.
There are difference genres that a playwright can consider when writing. For example, there are four genres that dramatic works usually fall in: tragedy, comedy, melodrama, and tragicomedy (Adair-Lynch). The point of tragedy is to arouse sadness and fear in the audience. In comedy, the audience should laugh when the unexpected happens. A melodrama is when the protagonist is a victim of circumstance and nothing is his fault—Oedipus Rex, in my opinion would exemplify this genre. And the tragicomedy is supposed to resemble real life and reveal real characters (Adair-Lynch).
In my opinion, writing for the stage differs from writing for a reader because of the visual elements that are brought into play. The author has options that an author of books does not have. These options also bring a certain amount of extra creativity that is required of a playwright. A playwright must be able to incorporate drama and the elements of theater in order to successfully create a dramatic work of value.
- Adair-Lynch, Terrin. “The Basic Elements of Theatre.” Santa Monica College, n.d., homepage.smc.edu/adair-lynch_terrin/ta%205/elements.htm