When you’re writing a comedy or a drama, the end goal is the same. In the beginning, the hero wants to achieve an emotional goal. In the end, the hero either achieves that emotional goal or not. In a comedy, the story almost always ends on a happy note (except for dark comedies). In romantic comedies, that means the hero finds true love, but in other types of comedies, the hero winds up with a better life in the end. In “The Hangover,” all three guys wind up with better lives than they had in the beginning, such as the one guy who had a domineering girlfriend and in the end he leaves her.
In dramas, the ending can be happy or sad. In “Atonement,” the story is about two lovers during World War Two, but we find out that because of one character’s actions, these two lovers never lived to have a happy life. Thus the story ends on a tragic note. In “Frost/Nixon,” the hero (David Frost) winds up getting a better life by proving he could debate Richard Nixon and come out on top.
The only real difference between a drama and a comedy is that a comedy tells a story in a humorous manner while a drama does not. Otherwise, a comedy story could be turned into a drama simply by stripping away the humor.
“Back to the Future” is a comedy about going back in time and changing the past to make the present better. Yet that’s also the same plot of “Source Code,” which is about a man constantly sent into the past to stop a terrorist attack on a train.
“Dr. Strangelove” was actually based on a serious novel called “Red Alert,” which was about a delusional Air Force general who orders a nuclear attack on Russia. Stanley Kubrick turned “Red Alert” from a serious drama about nuclear war into a comedy about nuclear war. Yet the basic plot remained the same. The only difference between comedy and drama is the way you tell the story.
“Dawn of the Dead” is a serious horror drama about surviving a zombie apocalypse, yet “Shaun of the Dead” is a comedy about surviving a zombie apocalypse.
Comedy and drama are just two different ways of telling the same story. When you come up with a story idea, decide whether to tell it with humor or with seriousness. There’s no right or wrong way to tell a story, but once you decide to be humorous or dramatic, you need to stick with that genre from start to finish.
Comedies must be humorous from the beginning while dramas must be serious from the beginning. Comedies can have moments of seriousness while dramas can have moments of comic relief, but that’s only to provide contrast. Ultimately, comedies and dramas can tell the same story so if you’re writing a comedy, first view it as a drama. Once you’ve defined your story, then focus on the humor. If you try to be funny, chances are good you’ll wind up focusing on jokes and ignoring basic story structure. This will create a sloppy movie like “The Spy Who Dumped Me.”
Likewise, if you’re writing a drama, focus first on your story structure. Then consider whether your story would be better told seriously (drama) or humorously (comedy). This can give you options on helping you decide the best way to tell your particular story.
Ultimately, comedy and drama is nothing more than a hero trying to make a better life for him or herself.