What makes a good drama?

In the last few days I have watched dramas so fine I don’t feel worthy, and dramas so farcical* they make a mockery of the whole genre.

*(In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not referring to Boys Over Flowers.)

Whether a drama is brilliant or a piece of crap, it affects me. I may feel elated or insulted; rarely do I feel nothing. The feelings may dissipate after a while, or they may hang around for a long time. For all the hours I spend on my kdramas—watching, thinking, and writing about them—I hope my brain is getting a beneficial workout. The day when I watch uncaring about quality is the day when it’s time to move on and look for a new obsession hobby.

I don’t know if it’s because of the disparate qualities of the dramas (and my own vastly different feelings toward each one of them), but I’ve been mulling over this question a lot lately: What makes a drama good?

Mother, is the rice good?
Yes. It is the best rice in the world.

If two lines in an ending episode make me press my palm to my throat (to quell the lump forming there), and if they make me want to write 3,000 words on “Rice as motif and metaphor in Can You Hear My Heart,” does that make it a good drama?

About an hour ago, while rummaging through some old college essays, I came across a notebook. On the inside of the cover I had pasted a note from one of my professors. It read, in part: “Writer’s Sketchbook. This is a place for you to experiment with (and save!) ideas, scenes, feelings, etc.”

I turned the pages and saw this:

Naeuri, did you ask me before if I have looked into my soul? Why would I not have done so? I looked tens of thousands of times. However, every time the answer I got was that I have no hope. Did you not as well suffer from the same hardships when you were young? Though I was not born an orphan I have no family. My mother and my brother. I do not know if they are dead or alive. They are only alive in my memories from when I was seven years old. I want to see them. The pain runs through to my bones.

If I can’t forget you, if you make me cry every time I think of you (and even now as I’m reading you, line after line, six full pages, in a book filled with many memories), does that make you a good drama?

In an isolated Buddhist temple
In darkness as black as coal
The thing that wanted and raised me…
Was one who threw a broom at me
While I was swinging my wooden sword
And who hid from me when I tried to wipe her tears
It was one child, a seven-year-old girl.

I know the measure of a good drama shouldn’t be limited to just what it does to my tear ducts. Thus I’ve been poking around the Internet, trying to find more suitable definitions.

Engaging characters are at the heart of all good drama… Characters should be believable, even if they are in an incredible situation. We should be able to empathize or engage with the main characters, even if we don’t necessarily like them. (Source)

Traditionally, good drama requires the presence of some sort of villain to force the character to make choices. A juicy villain can make or break a work of fiction. Although it can take the form of a human, beast or force of nature, this antagonistic influence forces the character to take a challenging path which they otherwise might not bother embarking on. Although seemingly clichéd, the battle between good and evil is a high concept and people love it. Yet the boundaries are rarely so clearly defined. Everything in this material world is of mixed quality and good drama reflects this eternal interplay of light and shadow. (Source)

I couldn’t breathe last night as I was watching a particular scene (no, not Damo or Chuno). A character, who was rightly a villain because of how he was using the protagonist for an evil revenge scheme, was getting beaten to a pulp. I cried as I watched because the character was played by a favorite actor (who played my favoritest King Jeongjo ever). At that point I forgot how I had been mad with him earlier because he was hurting my beloved protagonist. All I knew as the villain was getting whacked was this: “Please, please don’t die!”

If I care exceedingly for the characters, even the ones who are twisted and diabolical, does that make the drama a good drama?

And if the characters also sing…

… and the songs make me cry, does that make it an even better drama?

In most good stories, the protagonist will also have an inner obstacle, some mental or even spiritual problem that will be resolved by the time s/he reaches the outward, physical goal of the story. Some people call this inner demon a “ghost,” while others call it a “wound.” (Source)

For me the cherry on the top of good drama is the ole’ plot twist which keeps the interest of the reader by challenging their preconceptions. It mustn’t be too contrived and should be used sparingly for maximum effect, (so as) not to desensitize the reader. For the reader to persevere the distance necessary to reach the plot twist they must be drawn in by well-conceived characters. (Source)

Just when I think I have a drama all figured out, it throws me for a loop and leaves me gasping. A new relationship is revealed, with startling implications. Or a character is not what he or she appears to be. I can’t afford to drift off; I must watch each scene like a hawk lest I miss vital clues.

Is a drama that respects me as a viewer and involves me in the journey, so that I’m learning along with the protagonist, a good drama?

I get bored if I know exactly what’s going to happen and how. I also get quite irritated when I feel a character is illogical or if I feel the story structure is illogical… That’s not the same as being irrational. Irrational characters and stories are great as long as they have an inner logic. Take Murakami – totally irrational and surreal but yet absolutely authentic on a psychological level. (Source)

Logical stories. Authentic characters. That should make for a good drama, shouldn’t it?

On the other hand, a drama that suddenly becomes absurd and even bizarre, flinging apparitions and mystical elements into a story without warning or reason. The writer of such a drama must have momentarily taken leave of her senses. I ought to hate said writer and drama, right? Yet I cry like a baby in the drama’s most touching scene, one that I had to wait an eternity for, cursing and swearing through my tears and snot: “You stupid drama, why am I crying so hard for you, you crazy drama.”

A drama that gets under my skin, invited or not. A drama that I stay the course for, captive at times and cantankerous at others. Maybe such a drama isn’t that bad, all things considered.

How about you? In your opinion, what makes a good drama? Is it a single overriding element? Or is it the sum of many parts? What makes a drama so compelling that you stick with it to the end? And never tire of it, no matter how many times you watch it again.

54 thoughts on “What makes a good drama?

  1. Pingback: Bilan d’août : Rêveries | minalapinou

  2. You have asked the write question at the end of this article. “In your opinion what makes a good drama for you?” Because most, if not all, of the drama watchers are biased one way or the other.
    In all the years I have been watching dramas, and trying to find the right way to categorize them so that I may follow the ingredient in search of future dramas, I have failed to find ONE thing that is right for me, or an organized list for that matter.
    I have also failed to find the unbiased writer, or viewer. I see it as there is a line between the biased reviewer and the unbiased. Its a fine line, it can be crossed at any moment. I myself have crossed it many times, and when I think I have not, I still wonder if I have been biased. Because when you write about something you love, there is the constant bug poking at your conscience: “Was I fair enough? Did I say too much? I was too biased?” and so on. To write for other is the hardest thing. Lately when I review a drama, I abandon the idea that other people will read what I write and watch or not based on it.
    So, FOR ME, a good drama is the one that can touch my heart, teach me morals, good culture, and poke at my conscience when I watch it, review, and remember it.

  3. Pingback: Let’s Talk – What Makes A Good Drama? | you don't know me.

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