So you think you’re writing a “dramedy”, huh?
Not surprising — a lot of movies these days are dramedies. It can be easy to get caught up in the technicalities of combining comedy and drama, but constructing an intriguing dramedy is much simpler than you might think. We often get questions from writers about whether their feature-length dramedy screenplays are best suited for our comedy or drama contest.
“I always thought ‘realistic’ was a better way to explain things that were ‘dramedies,’ because life is like that,” said Seth Rogen.
If your movie tackles real life, it’s true, you’re likely writing a drama. But before you type “Fade In” at the top of your page, read through these three elements and consider how they apply to your story.
1. The Balance Between Comedy and Drama
Naturally, dramedy is the combination of two genres. But while some dramedies skew slightly one way or the other, the best find a perfect spot right in the middle.
While Silver Linings Playbook leans a bit more toward the dramatic and The Devil Wears Prada has more laughs, movies like About Time, The Way Way Back, and The Big Sick deftly move between funny and heartfelt scenes, awkward moments and bittersweet sentiments.
Life is often happy and sad at the very same time, moments that comedy films and drama movies have difficulty capturing.
It’s all about pacing, which is what you’ll need to control to create the perfect balance between comedy and drama.
2. The Depth of Your Characters
Even more than in other types of stories, intriguing characters are the keystones of good dramedies. Without interesting characters, a dramedy would fall flat, for they are the way for the audience to connect with the emotional comedic/dramatic material.
Give them layers, quirks, and contradictions. Have them say one thing and then do another. Let them struggle. Create complexity.
Consider Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook, who yells at Pat (Bradley Cooper) and then kisses him in the same scene, or Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), who argues with her mother and then defends her a few scenes later. Think about Greg (Thomas Mann) in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, who calls his best friend his “coworker” because he doesn’t like to make emotional attachments.
With complex, deep characters who grapple with the root of whatever emotional theme your screenplay is about, the audience will do the same — exactly what you want with an impactful dramedy.
3. Which Piece of Reality You’re Trying to Capture
Dramedy reflects reality. It’s happy, it’s sad, it’s bittersweet, it’s melancholic, and everything in between. Sometimes it’s all of those things at once.
The Kings of Summer is about the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood, Midnight in Paris deals with the repercussions of being disappointed in the time period in which you live, Beginners tackles what happens when a parent comes out as gay, and La La Land takes on the struggle to find success and stay true to your dreams. These four films look at their main themes from many perspectives — both comedic and dramatic.
When writing your dramedy, the most important thing is to consider which piece of reality you’re hoping to capture with your story. Are you trying to highlight the difficulty and beauty of parenthood? The fleeting freedom of adolescence? The feeling of being homesick in a new place? The struggle that comes with grappling with the inevitability of passing time? All fodder for incredible dramedies.
Once you pinpoint what your story is about — the universal theme at the very center — you can tackle figuring out both the comedic and dramatic elements that go along with it.
Don’t miss the upcoming final deadline for the 2018 ScreenCraft Comedy Screenplay Contest on June 1st.
Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.