Most dramas follow similar conventions, or rules, in how they are presented. An understanding of basic dramatic conventions can help you imagine the staging of the performance as you read. You may recognize that drama and fiction share a common set of elements: plot, setting, character, and theme.
Acts and Scenes
Dramatic plots are divided into acts and scenes, with each scene establishing a different time or place. As in fiction, the plot in a drama introduces interactions that produce a conflict, or struggle, between opposing forces. The action intensifies, reaches a peak, and is eventually resolved. The elements of plot in drama—exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution—parallel those in fiction.
The Cast of Characters
A play lists the cast of characters in the beginning, before the action starts. Many of the same types of characters that populate fiction are also found in drama. The protagonist is the central character of the play. This character is at the center of the conflict and often undergoes radical changes during the course of the play. The antagonist is the character who opposes the main character. Some plays also include a foil, a minor character whose traits contrast sharply with those of the main character. The interplay among these characters heightens the dramatic tension as the play develops.
The italicized instructions in a play are written by the playwright, or author, and are called stage directions. Stage directions describe the setting of the play and suggest the use of props, lighting, scenery, sound effects, and costumes. Stage directions also describe the entrances and the exits of characters, and how the characters look, speak, and react to events or to others.