However, it is to the dramatic artist only that ability is given to breathe nobility into the whole and to charge the singleness of effect with a vitality which marks a milestone in countless lives.
In this chapter we have found that the essence of drama is conflict— a clash of wills and its outcome; that the dramatic consists in those flashes which reveal life at its significant, crucial moments; and that the dramatic method is the way of telling the story with such economy of attention that it is comprehended by means of those illuminating flashes which both reveal character and show in an instant all that led up to the crisis as well as what will follow.
Now let us combine these three doctrines in the following definition, which is peculiarly applicable to the playlet:
Drama—whether it be serious or comic in tone—is a representation of reality arranged for action, and having a plot which is developed to a logical conclusion by the words and actions of its characters and showing a single situation of big human interest; the whole is told in a series of revealing flashes of which the final illuminating revelation rounds out the entire plot and leaves the audience with a single vivid impression.
Finally, we found that the physical movements of the characters often have nothing to do with securing dramatic effect, and that even words need not of necessity be employed. Hence dramatic effect in its final analysis depends upon what meaning the various minor scenes and the final big situation have for the characters and their destinies, and that this dramatic effect depends, furthermore, upon the big broad meaning which it bears to the minds of the audience, who have taken sides and feel that the chief character’s life and destiny represent their own, or what they would like them to be, or fear they might be. In the next chapter we shall see how the dramatic spirit is given form by plot structure.
THE STRUCTURAL ELEMENTS OF PLOT
In the chapter on the germ idea we saw that the theme or subject of a playlet is a problem that must be solved with complete satisfaction. In this chapter we shall see how the problem—which is the first creeping form of a plot—is developed and expanded by the application of formal elements and made to grow into a plot. At the same time we shall see how the dramatic element of plot—discussed in the preceding chapter—is given form and direction in logical expression.
I. WHAT IS A PLAYLET PLOT?
You will recall that our consideration of the germ idea led us farther afield than a mere consideration of a theme or subject, or even of the problem—as we agreed to call the spark that makes the playlet go. In showing how a playlet writer gets an idea and how his mind works in developing it, we took the problem of “The System” and developed it into a near-plot form. It may have seemed to you at the time that the problem we assumed for the purpose of exposition was worked out very carefully into a plot, but if you will turn back to it now, you will realize how incomplete the elaboration was—it was no more complete than any germ idea should be before you even consider spending time to build it into a playlet.