Drama's Most Powerful Elements in The Novel

- Part I: Enter the Major Complication
- Part II: The Archetypal MC
- Part III: MC Notes To Consider
- Part IV: McMurphy's Struggle = Pathos
- Part V: McMurphy Loses, but Wins

Enter The Major Complication

Ancient dramatists understood the requirements of a good tale, one in which willful human beings engaged in major conflict, the goal being to possess or achieve something of value. A character, by virtue of position or personality, was the antagonist, naturally defying the efforts of the protagonist, or hero, who was attempting to overcome. This basic conflict scenario resurfaces again and again in a myriad of forms, not only in life, but in novels, short stories, and of course, film and television.

What makes true dramatic conflict so universally effective is not only its ability to create tension, suspense, and powerful characters, but its unique method for portraying the need for value in human existence.

Fortunately, a potent means exists for structuring conflict in the novel so as to achieve maximum dramatic effect. We will examine that soon. First, however, some general notes and quotes on the drama.

European Theories of the Drama

The following excerpts were taken from the collection of essays entitled European Theories of The Drama. They are worth reflecting upon, not only because they illustrate important elements of drama, but because the insight they provide may also be applied to structuring conflict in the novel.

Speaking of drama, by J.W. Krutch

"It's action is usually, if not always, calamitous, because it is only in calamity that the human spirit has the opportunity to reveal itself triumphant over the outward universe which fails to conquer it."

"Tragedy reveals value in human life ... The death of a loved character, for example, reveals a value, something worth cherishing about life or humanity."

"Art should, at least in part, satisfy the universal human desire to find in the world some justice, some meaning, or at the very least, some recognizable order."

"The highest dramatic art is not achieved by pitting the most gigantic will against the most absolute necessity. The agonized struggle of a weak will, seeking to adjust itself to an inhospitable environment, may contain elements of poignant drama."

"The essential character of drama is social conflict in which the conscious will, exerted for the accomplishment of specific and understandable aims, is sufficiently strong to bring the conflict to a point of crisis."

"[drama] should lead up to and away from a central crisis, and this crisis should consist in a discovery by the protagonist which has an indelible effect on his or her thought and emotion and completely alters his or her course of action."

Arthur Miller

For Arthur Miller, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his or her "rightful" position in society, e.g., "Death of a Salesman." This is not to say we all have to write like Arthur Miller, but he makes some good points as follows:

"Sometimes he [the protagonist] is the one who has been displaced from it, sometimes the one who seeks to attain it for the first time, but the wound from which the inevitable events spiral is the wound of indignity."

It is this "tragic flaw", this unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what she or he conceives to be a challenge to personal dignity, that causes the protagonist to initiate the action of the tale, i.e., the rising drama.

If the struggle of the protagonist is just, if s/he contests for a fair evaluation, then those conditions which deny this reveal a wrong, or an "evil" in the world. This condition is the "enlightenment of tragedy."

"Pathos" is achieved in struggling for a goal that cannot possibly be won, however possible it seemed in the beginning.

John Dryden

Insofar as the protagonist is concerned, the primary emotional reactions on the part of the reader are fear and pity. Fear during the course of the drama that the protagonist will meet a tragic fate, and pity for the protagonist at such time this occurs.

Pity, or sympathy, cannot occur unless the character is ennobled, liked, respected. Thus, it is true concern for the protagonist that produces the highest emotion.

Keep the above points in mind as we move forward in the weeks to come. Reference them often.