Aristotle Drama and the Classic form

Readers of my blog know about my obsession with the classic form. Even if none of us had ever read the work of Aristotle, we know and understand the fundamentals of good drama when we discuss plot, characters and story. However, it took someone like Aristotle to explain exactly why great writers stokes audiences. Aristotle dissected the fundamentals of plays to discover the key principles of classic drama. Poetics freed writers to expand the classic form and this is why Aristotle’s principles of writing good drama continue to be of great significance today.

I studied Poetics because it was vital for me to have Aristotle’s key principles present in my work after I discovered that all the works that stoked me from childhood to adulthood originate from this form. Upon studying the work, I soon realised this classic form also exists in music and poetry I love. The problem for me is to be able to express Aristotle’s fundamental principles without it feeling contrived when you write. There is usually a flow which takes shape when this happens. I myself, am put off by contrived situations on screen and in print. I now realise the only way to avoid this is to practice until the the form becomes second nature in my work. Only then, will I be able to play with the form. I examined the work of Aristotle sometime ago but I now intend to return to the work again and I hope this is useful to other writers like me. Apologies if it is basic but I believe in starting from somewhere.

Aristotle, who lived between 384-322BC, wrote ‘Poetics’ but the work is not known to have been widely circulated or published in his lifetime. The discovery of Poetics years after Aristotle’s death has since influenced the dynamics of writing drama and poetry. The impact includes but is not limited to Poetics being properly translated in Italy during the Italian Renaissance and the time of Shakespeare in 1600. An Oriental version existed in 935AD. The classic form highlighted by Aristotle can be found in the works of Henrik Ibsen, Alfred Hitchcock, Arthur Miller, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Joss Whedon etc. The impact of Poetics has been considerable. I have written a short summary of Poetics but the original text, which is only 50 pages is a great read. It can be found at this url:
http://www.online-literature.com/aristotle/poetics/
 
Poetics looks at the fundamentals of writing great tragedy. Aristotle believed the art of good dramatic tragedy was personified by the works of the Greek playwright Sophocles who was constantly voted as the most popular by audiences. Few of Sophocles plays now survive.

These are the fundamental principles of classic drama: –

Poetics considers tragedy to be the dramatisation of a sequence of events which cause a situation to go from good to bad in a logical but surprising way. The dramatic events must show not tell what actually happens and must function according to the laws of logical probability or necessity. The events must evoke strong emotions such as pity caused by the character facing ‘unmerited misfortune’ or fear caused by relating to the character facing adverse circumstances. 

The plot should be an arrangement of events derived from an unbroken chain of cause and effect. The beginning, middle and end must have causal connections comprising a holistic whole to ensure audiences do not suffer from a suspension of disbelief or become disengaged from the plot. This is like looking at one’s own life, it is not split into dates but events which shape-shift into the life we have and know.

Aristotle acknowledged good characters must be complex, never stereotypes. The character like all human beings must have a flaw. This flaw must cause their situation to go from good to bad where they lose something of importance be it power, status or even risk their own lives or loved ones. Aristotle believed a good character has to be highly renowned and prosperous for the fall to be truly tragic. 

The character’s speech or action must express their character and their personal motivations must support the plot and its overall holistic theme. There must be continuity.

The written character must be relevant to the role, provide a picture of their morality, be true to life and show consistency through necessity and probability. This realism must also show an otherness which shows the representation of perhaps what may be a greater capacity in all human beings. Today, we may describe this as human ideals but these attributes will be universally recognised in heroes and heroines. A great favourite of Hitchcock and Spielberg is where the ordinary person becomes extraordinary in particular circumstances.

Poetics is the basis of Western drama and is used by playwrights and screenwriters alike. Poetics is the standard text in Hollywood but some choose to digress from the classic form. Therefore, most of us know the classic structure of all drama but choose to watch drama at the cinema, TV or theatre rather than the amphitheatre.

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The Cat Thief #Gointothestory DAY 10 scene

SCENE 11

EXT. LONDON GEORGIAN MAISONETTE AND GARDEN – NIGHT

A ginger cat goes out of an upstairs window and out of a huge overgrown garden which looks like a jungle.

Copper eyes reveal the face of Bombay Black pirate cat Gatto camouflaged near a wall in the garden.

Gatto holds down the tail of squirrel Tiny with his paw. Tiny has a watch and scratches notes on to a nut.

Gatto: Draw it up. If you tell anyone about this, squirrel death will descend upon your hole.

Tiny skips away trembling with nut in hand.

EXT. HOUSE GARDEN – NIGHT

Exact same scene, fat ginger cat leaves upstairs.

Great escape theme music starts to play quietly.

Gatto looks behind and slowly climbs up through a window. Squirrel Tiny trembles below.

Gatto: Are you a squirrel or a mouse?

Tiny: Someone said we’re related.

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT

Gatto climbs on to a cooker door handle, jumps onto cooker and then hops into a larder cupboard. Gatto’s eyes feast upon the bounty.

Gatto drop tins of top cat food out through the window.

EXT. WINDOW DOOR – NIGHT

Tiny ducks food tins which tumble onto the patio.

INT. UPSTAIRS BEDROOM – NIGHT

Gatto keeps sniffing as he climbs bedposts, jumps onto a mantlepiece. The clock swivels to open a trapdoor. Inside is a jewellery case holding a cat collar with sapphires and diamonds.

Gatto: Ging, you fat cat, you.

A croaky groan. Gatto sees old lady in bed.

Gatto is relieved when lady falls back asleep but he now hears the sound of a cat knocking into something.

Ging appears and looks directly at Gatto who starts to creep away but Ging just looks out to space.

Gatto turns to go but cranky sleepy old lady wakes up.

Old lady: Come here you disgusting cat.

Gatto looks at himself and then the old woman. Gatto is about to remonstrate when sleepy lady grabs Ging and slaps him. The old lady now awake sees Gatto.

Lady: YOU.

Momentarily lost, Gatto pulls the cat collar and waves it as a pendulum at both the old lady and Ging.

Gatto: Ging you will leave this place, lose weight and regain your self esteem. You, old lady, will stop abusing cats or anyone. Remember nothing when you wake.

Both Ging and the cranky old lady fall into a deep sleep.

Gatto scratches the bedpost and the bed sheet with a pirate cat skull.

Gatto sniffs both Ging and the lady. Gatto finds a bottle of RUM under the bed. Gatto swigs the rum and puts on the cat collar before disappearing into the night.

The Date #Gointothestory DAY 11 scene

SCENE 10

INT. RESTAURANT – SUNSET

Swarthy confident David and a glowing but nervous Clarissa are having candle-lit dinner at a restaurant. Sunset can be seen from the window.

David: So how come you said yes?

Clarissa: I had a lot less on this week.

David: I’m curious as to why.

Clarissa: Curiosity.

David: And how’s that curiosity coming along?

Clarissa: Coming along.

David: Are you being evasive?

Clarissa: An accusation or a question?

David: Do you enjoy being with me?

Clarissa: Let’s skip the interrogation.

David: I’m enjoying the asparagus.

Clarissa: Finely tipped long shoots always work well.

David: And the artichoke?

Clarissa: Great once you get to the heart of it.

David: The heart is where it’s at.

Clarissa: If it tastes great, it’s probably great.

David: Same time next week.

Clarissa: Sounds like dinner every week.

David: That good?

Clarissa: You only live once.

David: Unless you believe in reincarnation.

Clarissa: I’m in this life now.

David: Looks good from where I am sitting.

Clarissa: I want to blow out the candle and make a wish.

David: Together.

Clarissa: I’m ready.

David: Next dating candidate please. A great eg of how to avoid the sticky four letter commitment. Feel free to come back anytime Melissa.

Clarissa: I’ve got a funny feeling I won’t need any more courses on getting out of being with Ed. By the way, my name is Clarissa and I just committed.

GOINTOTHESTORY TASK: 

Today’s prompt: A characters says “I love you”… without using the words “I love you”.

There are tens of thousands of words in the English language. Explore them in a scene where one character expresses his/her love for another without the old tried and true expression.

Then take that as a jumping off point: Why does the character not use the words “I love you”? Are they afraid of making that type of commitment? Are they trying to be clever? Have they rehearsed a speech? Stumbling over ILY, then suddenly jump to some other way of conveying their feelings?

And by the way, they don’t have to say anything, it’s possible they could get across their love through a gesture. Movies are a visual medium. Perhaps explore that possibility.

But whatever you do, don’t let the character say, “I love you.”

 

DEERS OFF – #Gointothestory DAY 9 scene

EXT. WOODS NEAR ALEXANDRA PALACE, LONDON – DAY

North American white tailed deer STAG Harry and FAWN Micky eat twigs and look out to London.

HARRY: Here we are in London, I can smell the pollution Jerry described.

MICKY: Scotland’s the place we want to be Dad.

HARRY: You got to think of property prices son?

MICKY: We won’t need a house to protect us in Scotland.

HARRY: Scotland’s got too many food banks son.

MICKY: It gets better and better.

HARRY: You got to start thinking with your stomach son.

MICKY: I do Dad, all the time, apart from one time.

HARRY: Food banks mean no one has food son.

MICK: Red deer said we should go back to where we came from?

HARRY: And what was that Red’s name again?

MICKY: Tufton Victor Osborne.

HARRY: And did you tell Tufton about dangers in the US?

MICK: Red said it’s worse here. Red dreams of going to Cayuga heights.

HARRY: Tufton doesn’t want immigrants like us.

MICK: They have immigrants like us in Scotland.

HARRY: It won’t be any different there son.

MICKY: DAD, I saw a video about the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996.   

HARRY: I’ve warned you about watching TV.

MICKY: No one can shoot us in Scotland Dad.

HARRY: And this has got nothing with you trying out at the Edinburgh fringe?

MICKY: Mum thinks you could develop a Scottish nose.

HARRY: No Tufton’s there I bet, talking smells.

Harry raises his white tail and twitches. Harry runs and Micky follows and they are gone.

A small child appears after peeing in the bushes.

NOT HIM #Gointothestory DAY 6 scene

EXT. HOXTON SQUARE, LONDON – DAY

Slick spiky haired Vanda stands slouches on the shoulder of geeky blonde Rick on the edge of a busy green square. They are eyeing up an older boy standing outside a bar across the road.

VANDA: That’s the guy right there.

RICK: You can’t go round picking random boys.

VANDA: One guy not boy Rick. And he’s not random if I chose him.

RICK: You know what I mean.

VANDA: Dark, good looking and yes he is a little mean. It’s what a girl likes that counts.

RICK: Classic serial killer.

VANDA: That’s the guy I tell you.

RICK: How can he be the one?

VANDA: I didn’t say that.

RICK: Question, Is he the dreamboat or not?

VANDA: That guy is a good a bet as anyone.

RICK: You don’t know a single thing about him.

VANDA: No one knows anything about anyone until they get to know them.

RICK: He’s too old.

VANDA: Girls go mature before they go toy. He looks about 20.

RICK: He’s definitely done it.

VANDA: I may have done it.

RICK: Why can’t you find someone your own age?

VANDA: Oh purrleaze, I don’t know anyone but you.

Silence

RICK: Shit, that’s Mr Harris, he’s coming towards us.

VANDA: Go.

They run in the opposite direction.

EXT. ARNOLD SQUARE, HOXTON – DAY

RICK: Let’s not skip school tomorrow.

VANDA: I didn’t mean you’re not worth going out with you know.

RICK: I don’t think Mr Harris saw us.

VANDA: Rick, I just want you to know…

RICK: I don’t want to talk about it Vanda.

RIP TIME – #Gointothestory competition DAY 2

EXT. FERNCLIFFE CEMETERY – DAY

GIRL: I’d be embarrassed if anyone I knew saw me so that’s why I’m here. Seriously, I’m not sure this is the right place to talk to you but it’s time.
So much has happened since you left but some things sadly remain the same but there are signs of change everywhere. Of course, I miss you being around, that goes without saying. Watching you was always so funny. It seems only right that I’m upset when I think of what could have been if you were still here.
That portentous photograph. Only you would know, but I felt, it was the moment you were most content that you were snatched away. I can’t really remember you leaving the first time round. I’m sorry about that but hey, when I did start to listen to you, I couldn’t stop. Your love, sardony, wit, depth and originality followed me around. So did the ache when I realised you had gone. Your true face is wrapped in London’s fog but they still plaster your image everywhere. All that remains are feelings. What you said still matters to me because you meant what you said. You didn’t try to make me share your exact feelings but the meaning behind your words mean as much to me as they did you. You made so many people feel this way. Still do.
You made it cool for me to care. ‘Imagine’. You never said anything lightly except when it was banter. You’re still more popular than Jesus, who as you said in your own inimitable way, ‘was alright’ but for the hangers on. You said people could make a difference. Everyone of us has the power to have the God we crave. Maybe, people can be bigger than the God we are given or told about if we create the kind of God we want.
You gifted me the feeling that people and our world will always matter. I believed you. Always will. I never got to say thank you but you must have some kind of messaging system by now. Since you left, you’ll be pleased to hear there have been others but you will always be my first.
One last thing before I go. Thought you might like to know it’s Sunday. I’d sing Watching the Wheels but you know I can’t sing, play drums or guitar. You can’t have everything

PAY BACK SCENE 1 – #Gointothestory competition

EXT. COFFEE SHOP – AFTERNOON

A quiet coffee shop peppered with a small crowd of people. Smart suited prim Jane walks in as loafy long haired Max cradles his latte.

JANE
Why here?

MAX
You’re kidding me.

JANE
Your idea of a date?

MAX
Where we first met?

JANE
And the rest.

MAX
What’s that supposed to mean?

JANE pulls out MAX’s phone.

MAX
All this time. Hand it over.

JANE
Any particular reason?

MAX
I want to play you…something.

JANE
…Figures.

MAX
Listen. I’m here to make up.

JANE
Which story?

Jane glances at the phone.

MAX
What is wrong with you?

Jane slams the phone into Max’s face

MAX
You’ve got to learn to communicate.

JANE
…It is your phone isn’t it?

MAX
I love your legal stuff but let’s skip the interrogation.

Max presses his phone. It starts to play ‘It had to be you’. He looks to Jane.

JANE
‘GREAT TIME, BY THE WAY, MY NAME IS LISA’.

Jane stands up and grabs the phone back.

JANE
Look there’s even a photo. NOT ME EVERYONE. SOME OTHER GIRL.

People in the coffee shop look embarrassed and turn away. A lone woman cheers.

COFFEE SHOP GUY
This has got nothing to do with any of us. Carry on.

MAX
Thanks dude. I can explain.

JANE
Let me guess, you deny, everything?

MAX
A rogue text from a girl I don’t know. I’VE NEVER CHEATED, NEVER WILL.

The music suddenly stops as Jane smashes the phone to pieces.

JANE
HE’S PAYING.

Old woman cheers.

EXT. OUTSIDE PAVEMENT

An agitated Jane walks a block. She makes a call.

JANE
It’s over. Nothing to salvage, satisfied.