Drama is the centerpiece of classic and modern plays. Represented by two masks (comedy and tragedy), the dramatic play seeks to entertain and thrill just as it showcases the human spirit and reflects humanity back to the audience. Drama in other forms of literature, such as novels or screenplays, owe much of their debt to this form of production and the ancient Greek tradition that created the dramatic structure.
Dramatic plays are beholden to a set of characteristics that outline the arc of the play. These characteristics are most easily identified in five-act plays, but they can be seen in three-act plays, literature and films. The first part of the structure is the exposition, where background information is given to the audience through a narrator or dialogue. This information sets the tone of the story and lets the audience know the setting, the characters and the conflict. Usually, this segment of the play ends with an inciting moment, which is to say the turn in the story that essentially is the reason the story is being told.
Rising action is the second characteristic of a dramatic play. During the play, the conflict will be complicated by several subplots or various other conflicts. These other conflicts will be put in front of the protagonist to prevent him from reaching his goal.
Many people mistakenly view the climax as the end of the play. The climax actually comes in the middle. This is the turning point in the story where things begin to change for the protagonist. Depending on whether the drama is a comedy or a tragedy, the turn will either be for the worse or for the better.
The fourth characteristic of a dramatic play is the falling action, which is where we will finally see the confrontation between the protagonist and the main antagonist. This confrontation will take different forms, depending of the type of story. By the end of this section, we will either have a resolution to the conflict or we will be left in suspense as to the outcome.
The denouement, or conclusion, of the story signifies the final characteristic of the dramatic structure. It is in this act that we will see whether the protagonist is better off than when the story began (in the case of a comedy), or worse off (in the case of a tragedy.