When I insisted that protagonist of my story was female, one reviewer said, “Oh, it’s a melodrama.” I didn’t even know what that was.

One internet source claimed a melodrama exaggerated the events of a story to appeal to emotion.  Another internet dictionary said a melodrama emphasized events over character.  A third explained that a melodrama was unconcerned with cause and effect.

One authoritative source claimed that in a melodrama evil is always punished and good was always rewarded.  But wasn’t that element part of the standard sic-fi formula?

Here’s the contextual scheme:

“There are stock characters (hero, heroine, comic character & villain) who do not change psychologically or morally, which means the interest lies in the manipulation of the plot in which fate, Providence and justice play important parts. The action arises out of the evil machinations of the cold-blooded villain operating on a falsely accused hero, a captive maiden, long suffering elders or some variation or combination of the above.” (

Sound familiar? This source even used Star Wars as an illustrative example.

This formula is so pervasive, we no longer question the structure. I once wrote an essay on how The Outlaw Josey Wales was the exact same plot as the first Muppet Movie where Kermit the Frog was pushed out of the swamp by a bad guy, went on adventure while he gained several sidekicks, found a place he wanted to settle, negotiate with the tribes who already lived there, but had to first finish the contest with the bad guy who was pursuing him.

If this formula works for the men, then why did the reviewer assume that a story with a female protagonist was automatically classified as melodrama?

Melodrama was popular in vaudeville which was live theater brought to immigrant America. Since audience members at the time often struggled with English and were really there to see the women in skimpy costumes, plots of the vignettes were often thin excuses for the landlord to chase the tenant dressed in a slip around the table.

The story was not important; the cause and effect were secondary to the slapstick and discothèque. A recent example would be Burlesque with Cher and Christina Aguilera that used a formula plot that no viewer cared about.

This entry was posted in Girl Heroes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.