Taming Wild Melodrama

Curses are melodramatic—the ancient kind, especially in mysterious symbols on parchment, especially involving mummies. Especially curses that work. (Boasts Shakespeare's pompous Glen-dower, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep," to which Hotspur retorts sardonically, "Why, so can I, or so can any man; but will they come when you do call to them?")

So how can you have something like, say, a real working curse, something that actually comes, in your story and make the reader want to believe in it while the story lasts?

How can you encourage what literary critics have called "the willing suspension of disbelief when your story is founded on something intrinsically unlikely, strikingly unusual, or even impossible?

Melodrama, what I'm going to call "the curse" as a kind of shorthand for discussion, can be any of a variety of events, horrible or wonderful: love, death, or both together. It can be the supernatural, the exotic, the strange, the highly improbable coincidence. It can be a monstrous or magical character, divorced from the usual range of human experience or capabilities.

Melodrama is extremes of any kind, things intended to rouse strong emotions and invoke implicit shared attitudes. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, you can't let go of such powerful material until you've come to terms with it, turning the curse into a blessing.

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