What are the main differences between telling a story through narration and telling it through drama?What are the main differences between telling a story through narration and telling it through...

What are the main differences between telling a story through narration and telling it through drama?

What are the main differences between telling a story through narration and telling it through drama?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While a play presents its action upon a stage, it can forcefully command the spectator's attention.  For, the stage is lighted, the theatre dark, there is nothing to distract the audience.  Unlike the fiction writer or the poet, the playwright is not dependent upon the power of words alone. 

Some other differences that drama has from written narration:

  • The experience that a drama presents is communal and has a more intense impact than narration.
  • Talented actors, through expression, gestures, speech rhythn, and intonation are often able to make a speaker's words more expressive than the reader's unaided imagination can.
  • The kind of materials that playwrights can present is limited
  • Point of view is limited to the objective.  The dramatist cannot directly comment on the action or the characters as he/she can with narration.
  • New ideas in a characters mind must be shown through the conventions of soliloquy and aside.  But these devices interrupt the action.
  • Ideas must be mainly presented with human beings in spoken interaction with each other.  Materials in which the main interest is in unspoken thoughts and reflections cannot be used. e.g. stream of consciousness narration.
  • Certain actions cannot be presented. e.g. attacking wolves or charging cavalry.
  • It is often very difficult to shift scenes rapidly, or use such techniques as flashback.  Playwrights usually stay with one setting for an extended period of time; sometimes there is, in fact, just one stage setting.
  • Nothing on a large scale can be presented on stage.  e.g. battles, ships coming into a port, etc.
  • Plays cannot present certain actions e.g. an insect crawling somewhere such as on a window sill.
  • It is absolutely important that a drama have a well-defined plot, swift exposition, strong conflict, and dramatic confrontations in order to interest viewers.
  • Plays are usually divided into parts, and each part has its own climax and suspense.
  • A play is written so that its central meanings may be grasped in a single performance.
  • Playwrights usually avoid long narrative passages since spoken interaction of character is what moves the play along.

Certainly, there are both gains and losses on both parts, but sharing the experience of a play with other audience members--often an emotional experience--is an advantage of viewing it alone, or of reading it as one does narration.

Source:  Arp, Thomas and Johnson, Thomas, Ed. Perrine's Literature: Structure, Sound & Sense.Wadsworth, Boston: Wadsworth, 2006.




readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Good question. The first post mainly showed the weakness of drama, but there are also positive point of drama that narration does not have. One important point to keep in mind is that the form of something is also a conveyer of meaning  just as the content.

Plays are able to engage more of a person's senses than narration alone. A person's sense of sight, hearing and smell can be touched. And if a stage crew is creative, the stage does not need to be seen as a limitation, because the audience know that it is stage, and they do not break the dramatic illusion. This is why certain movies need to be seen on the silver screen rather than a 20 inch TV at home or there is a world of difference between going to the opera than simply hearing one. A good example is the Broadway play, Avenue Q. It is done with puppets and there is no way that a person can experience it other than as a play. A narration of the play would be extremely boring.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the best ways to answer such a question is to reflect on your own experiences in this realm.  For instance, find an example of an art sample that has been told through narration.  What did you like about the narrative style featured?  Were you able to follow the plot and development of characterizations in an effective manner?  Did it work well for you and fit your style of appreciation?  Applying the same questions to a drama will be able to reflect much about how you perceive the experience of art.  No doubt that some of the strengths in both lie in reader and artist comfort, but being able to personally relate in your own terms and experience what you saw as the differences between narration and dramatic production would be able to highlight the experiences of both in more concrete terms.

lit24 | Student

When a story is narrated it is for the reader to visualize the scene and imagine what is happening. Thus the words of the story teller stimulate our imagination and we participate in imaginatively recreating what is being narrated. This is the perpetual charm of a short story or a novel.

Going to the theater and seeing a play is an experience by itself. Drama is one of the most physically and mentally demanding of all literary forms. When watching a play we have to sit still for at least two or three hours and listen very attentively to what is happening on the stage because if we don't we will not be able to understand the play at all. However, we are amply rewarded for our efforts by witnessing both the visual and aural effects which the playwright and his producers provide for us.

This is why many novels and short stories have been adapted for the stage, but never has a play been re-written as a novel or a short story.