Modern Drama | Language Techniques
Older plays used to have both acts and scenes as divisions of the play, but not in Modern Drama. Acts were the larger divisions, with your normal play having five acts. Each act was supposed to represent a part of the dramatic structure or plot, while the scenes just represented a change of physical location, such as from the court to the forest.
Modern plays often have only one level of structure, which may be referred to as either scenes or acts; and some writers don’t have formal divisions at all.
The number of acts/scenes used was traditionally three, but because Modern playwrights love breaking rules, there are now millions of One-Act, Two-Act, and Four-Act modern plays – many of them set on the Board of Studies syllabus.
When you notice that your play deviates from the usual Three-Act play, you should try to figure out why – sometimes a Two-Act play, for instance, is setting up a deliberate contrast between two characters or two ideas. The number of acts is often surprisingly significant.
- Exposition: The part of a story that introduces the characters, shows some of their inter-relationships, and places them within a time and place. This part of the story introduces the main character, the dramatic premise, or the character’s drive in life, and the dramatic situation, or the problem or conflict in the character’s life in Modern Drama.
- Inciting Incident: An event that sets the plot in motion. It occurs approximately halfway through the first act.
- Obstacles: In the second act, the main character encounters obstacle after obstacle that prevent them from achieving their dramatic need or drive.
- First Culmination: A point just before the Midpoint of the drama where the main character seems close to achieving their goal or need. Then, everything falls apart.
- Midpoint: A point halfway through the drama where the main character reaches their lowest point and seems farthest from fulfilling their dramatic need or goal.
- Climax or Second Culmination: The point at which the plot reaches its maximum tension and the forces in opposition confront each other at a peak of physical or emotional action.
- Denouement: The unravelling, explanation or conclusion of events, which are generally less tense even if bad things are happening. Sometimes the denouement will give you answers and closure, sometimes it will leave you to wonder what will happen next, or will leave you to decide for yourself. The denoument is usually where you see the moral message of the playwright.
Other terms for discussing the structure of the play you might want to use
- The exits and entrances of characters.
- Characters joining and leaving groups onstage – this is often called blocking.
- Dialogue hints – when characters foreshadow events through their dialogue.
- Business of the play – this is a strange technical tern for the ‘bits’ of action within a scene in Modern Drama.
Consider the title of the play
Usually, a play’s name will be symbolic, and may be the key to an allegory or comparison you are supposed to make, or will help you crack the metaphor at the heart of the play.
Structure of the play
Is it a one, two, or three act play? Try and figure out why these divisions have been made.
Analyse each character’s perspective and figure out what they represent
Characters may be the protagonist, antagonist, a foil character, a love interest and so on. Consider their role in the function of the play, and then think about what opinions or attitudes each character represents.
What themes are explored throughout the play?
Short plays will often only explore one or two themes, because there simply isn’t the same room as there is in a novel. However, the themes are usually fundamental to the human condition, and may be complex and intertwined.
What techniques and style are used to convey information?
Is the play realistic, with characters speaking only dialogue? Are there soliloquies? Do the characters seem aware of the audience and interact with them? Is the information of the play fragmented or made into gibberish or presented as though it is a documentary or a musical?
Consider all these possibilities and try to define the style and major techniques used.