The classical school of drama dictates that a play must have one plot with few subplots, take place in one setting, and take place in a 24-hour period. Writers, actors and directors use and break these rules regularly for effect. Many dramatic techniques come from these classical rules. Other techniques have appeared in theater, film and television over time.
In the teachings of Aristotle, the first dramatist known to write dramatic theory, plot was more important than character. In modern drama, character became more important. You can use certain character techniques for dramatic effect. A character can speak an aside; that is, directly address the audience to reveal something about the story, other characters, or about herself. In movies this often occurs in voiceover. In the theater this can take the form of a monologue or one character commenting to the audience about the dialogue of another character.
Plots and Subplots
Tension is a key component of drama. Even though classical theory calls for few or no subplots, dramatists like Shakespeare use multiple subplots. When the action of the play cuts back and forth between several story lines, the audience is left wondering what is going to happen. In early cinema, this became "the cliffhanger." A character would literally be left hanging from a cliff while the action of the movie cut away to another subplot. Using multiple subplots can be a technique to create tension in the mind of the audience.
Conflict in drama is a technique that propels a story forward. Some classical conflicts are between characters and nature, between two or more characters or within one character. When a character is in conflict with herself, the technique relies heavily on a strong connection between the character and the audience. The most common dramatic technique pits characters against each other in an escalating conflict. Conflicts between characters and forces greater than themselves, such as an earthquake or war, rely on spectacular production techniques like elaborate staging or special effects.
Contemporary technology takes dramatic techniques to a new level. The use of effective lighting can support a drama. A blackout at the end of a scene is a technique used to heighten a drama. Low light can create a frightening effect. Bright light can create a happy, even surreal effect on stage. Distortion of sound can be used for myriad effects. Finally, hydraulics and stage machinery can bring about grand scale dramatic results, moving stories from different places quickly and effectively.