Thursday, August 11, 2011

Drama and melodrama

GBE books read to date: 21

I've been enjoying reading in the mystery section of the Dan Poynter Global eBooks Awards. You know how it goes... ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, dodging danger, solving clues and saving the world... Of course, not all mysteries involve saving the world. Sometimes it's saving a child, saving a name, saving a farm. But in other books the stakes are high and it's down to someone just like you or me to stop a terrorist attack. That's where melodrama creeps in.

I read and reviewed a mystery a few months ago where protagonists  investigating possible murder stumbled on terrorism. The murder mystery was satisfyingly dramatic, but terrorism felt like melodrama piled on top of fun, tugging the story to a different level and leaving the reader stumbling on the step. Yesterday I read another mystery with drama and melodrama mixed. This time both were introduced near the start of the story. I was free to think "What's this doing here?" while still eager to read on; the drama had only just begun and I was truly intrigued. Soon the plots were inextricably intertwined. Soon it didn't matter that the bad guy was two-dimensional. I was reading for three-dimensional good guys, longing to see them rise above their problems , desperate to see the bad guys' plan thwarted before he could destroy all that lay in store. And I loved the book. The threats were huge and melodramatic, but the characters under threat were people I knew; people with the possibility of change; people who deserved to succeed.

So what do I conclude about melodrama and drama in mystery? That I'll feel cheated if melodrama intrudes on my attempts to understand the drama; that I need enough regular drama and genuine characters to keep me engaged; and that, done right, it can make for a pulse-pounding, totally absorbing read.

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