By: Laura Huie
As writers, we often wonder what’s the best way to bring success when entering screenwriting contests. Besides honing your plot, characters, dialogue, and other distinctive craft elements, you need to write a story that only you can tell. But what does that mean exactly?
Everyone has a story to tell and their own way to tell it. Dig deep into your own unique experiences, your specific interests, and what you know in order to discover a story that only you can write. The authenticity that follows will be evident in your screenplay—whether it be a feature, television pilot, or short film—and you might be surprised how the old adage “write what you know” can bring contest success.
Here at Shore Scripts, we want every writer to put their best foot forward in our competitions, and one way to do so is in the drama genre. In fact, drama is by far the genre with the largest number of submissions to our contests. And although that means more competition to be up against, aspiring screenwriters can still make their mark. Let’s dive into some current trends in drama in film and television, how you can write “good” drama, and tips on writing what you know.
The History of Drama
Both drama and comedy are known to be the earliest genres of cinema, and they remain the most popular genres today. Specifically, drama is based on the emotional development of realistic characters. Frequently, the themes within dramatic films or television shows are derived from real-life issues. With a mix of both external and internal conflict, drama often tells genuine stories of everyday human struggles which makes this genre easy for audiences to relate to.
This genre is also wide-ranging, meaning that there are many subgenres of drama, including biography, courtroom, dramedy, melodrama, historical, period, romance, and more. For emerging screenwriters, drama is a great place to start because the possibilities are nearly endless.
Examples of Popular Dramas in TV/Film
The Godfather: The aging patriarch of an organized crime circle must secure the future of his family’s empire by leaving it in the hands of his reluctant son. Read the script here.
The Shawshank Redemption: A former banker convicted of murdering his wife develops a lifelong friendship with a fellow prisoner, and ultimately tries to defy the odds by keeping hope alive inside prison walls. Find out more about the use of narration in The Shawshank Redemption.
Breaking Bad: A chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal lung cancer teams up with his former student to cook and sell crystal meth in order to provide for his family, his wife, disabled son, and newborn. Learn more about working with protagonists & antagonists.
True Detective: The lives of two detectives collide during a 17-year hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana. Read the Pilot script here.
Drama remains to be one of the most widespread genres, and there continue to be new and exciting perspectives added to the genre each year. Most recently, current trends show dramedies, modernized takes on historical/period dramas, and crime-centric dramas are on the rise. Let’s look at a few popular examples in the past year within these subgenres.
Dramedies: A well-balanced mix of drama and comedy. This balance provides comedic relief for the audience, while still centering on serious issues. Think of The White Lotus (HBO Max), Wednesday (Netflix), Succession (HBO Max), or The Bear (Hulu).
Historical/Period Dramas: Inspired by true historical events and/or people. Think Bridgerton (Netflix), The Crown (Netflix), or The Gilded Age (HBO Max).
Crime Dramas: Focuses on crimes, the criminals that commit them, and the people that catch them. There are also many different formats of crime dramas, such as procedural, detective, whodunnit, and more. Think Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (Netflix), Barry (HBO Max), or The Staircase (HBO Max).
Although these are current trends, this doesn’t mean that screenwriters should veer away from other dramatic subgenres. If you’re passionate about your story and you have a clear reason why you’re the ideal person to write it, then it can very well be a success.