Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Dramatic Triad: Two's Company, Three's a Story

In the process of revising a suspected repetition in your current longform project, you stumble instead over the roots of a narrative truth you'd lost sight of in the abundant tool kit of narrative truths. 


You refer to the Dramatic Triad, where two individuals may engage in the occasional argument but more often than not have settled into conversation or the kinds of revelatory silences used with such eclat by the late lamented playwright, Harold Pinter.

You've been dealing in recent days with the Dramatic Triad of Mattie Ross, Rooster Cogburn, and the sullen Texas Ranger known as LaBoeuf in Charles Portis' True Grit, and the triad in Allison Lurie's The War between the Tates, Erica, her husband, Brian, and Brian's graduate student, Wendy. 

With a step backward to reflect on the impact of the triad, you reach an immediate recollection of how, even though things were dramatic enough between Huck Finn and the runaway slave, Jim, the appearance on the scene of Huck's old contemporary, Tom Sawyer, immediately cast an unhealthy chemistry over the surroundings. 

In some ways, the reappearance of Tom Sawyer pulls the rug out from what had been a remarkable journey into the midst not only of the human condition but of America at a crucial historical moment.

Additional examples of the Dramatic Triad came to visit you. Frank Chambers, Cora Papadakis, and Cora's husband, Nick, in James M. Cain's novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice; and not to forget the narrator, Marlowe, in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, in concert with Kurtz and Kurtz's finance. You were also reminded of Kate, Merton, and Milly in Henry James' The Wings of the Dove.

There are others, to be not only sure but certain, say Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom in Fitzgerald's memorable The Great Gatsby, and what about Miles Archer, his wife, Iva, and Samuel Spade, edging about the precipitous moral boundaries of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon?

Sometimes you can't see the forest for all the trees, much less can you see the tree for all its subterranean roots.  Nevertheless, try asking during your reading and writing bouts: What does each character bring to the story that would otherwise not have been there? A bit of a stretch, but consider the implications if Claudius had not been the brother to the recently dead King Hamlet.

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