Can Big Drama Be Done Quietly?

I play games in which grand and dramatic is pretty much the gold standard. It’s part of the system, I can deal with that. I see a lot of people writing in ways that are grand and dramatic, and hey, power to them. But there’s one thing I notice, and that’s that they seem to have dramatic conflated with big and showy. Is that really necessary, or can good drama be done quietly? I think it can.

Sure, most of what I see begs to differ. I run into characters who can’t come to a world-altering realization or decide to fight their fates without jumping on a table or a bed or whatever elevated platform happens to be handy and screaming it to the world. Battles are huge pitched things with large numbers of people, even if most of those people don’t have assigned names. Symbols are so big and so bright the afterimage sears itself into your eyelid for the next hour. Big. Shiny. Cinematic.

But real drama, as far as I’m concerned, can exist in subtlety and silence, leaning on symbolism or placing all its weight not on volume but on context. The little things can get across as much as the big ones.

Instead of scope, this sort of trick is based on contrast. Sometimes, it’s contrast with how the character usually acts—the usually brave one hesitating, the chatterbox subdued, the coward standing there shivering but not moving out of the way. Other times, it’s contrast with the backdrop—a big, impressive scenery serving only as the foil for one tiny act of connection between two characters. Or perhaps it’s contrast with expectations—where the scene practically demands The Epic but the characters themselves think smaller.

I am the kind of person who, while everyone else is focused on the grand and impressive scene as the intrepid heroes step forward through the Gate to a world where one of their most deadly enemies waits, is more interested in one hesitating at the brink and her friend’s subtle little fifth-limb sash wrapping about her hand and giving an encouraging squeeze. The kind who instead of the leap-into-arms of the lover rescued by his/her intended after months of trauma, accompanied by shouts of how wonderful this is, reunion, etc, contains it all in one sad little smile.

So other characters can shout so loud that never mind the gods, the reader can hear them, hug so long and so tight it’s a wonder either side’s still breathing, stand up against armies and give five paragraphs of speech telling them off. It’s nice. I can do it too. But somewhere in there I’ll always have, and always want to see, the ones who do the same thing just by saying one person’s name a slightly different way, without requiring a paragraph of explaino-text getting across what that little thing meant and why it’s important.

Good drama can be done quietly. Sure, it’s harder. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it.

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