Day 11 – Structuring the Plot – case study – American Buffalo
Today, David Mamet shared one of his tragedies “American Buffalo” and took us through the progression of his plot. His example went through the steps of his previous lessons. He went on to break down his play in 3 parts.
The first question is – what starts the play? The precipitating even was about the set-up of a robbery of a coin collection and a father who wanted to teach his son their code as thieves. An antagonist kicks out his son to play on a father’s fear and the lack of ability to be a thief.
Incidents or scenes continue to progress and play on the fears or mistrust of thieves. Like many other plays in this genre, their insecurities, fears and mistrust all snowball to the final act.
In the last part of the play, the father goes through reversal of character. He went from a father to a monster when he believes the antagonist that his son stole from them. A confession was made from the son and the father has a moment of recognition.
Each element of the plot follows the 3 part structure that David spoke about yesterday. He went on to dive deeper into human nature and why he structures his scenes to last about 7 minutes. His play follows natural human behavior the average length of conversations before our attention wanders. Every 20 minutes our conversations take a longer pause. He uses that behavior to structure the acts of his plays.
Writers can use his example of structuring a novel into 3 parts. When it comes to the length of a chapter, we need to take into account wandering minds. Keep readers engaged by building incidents that move the plot forward to the final chapters where our main character has that moment of recognition and experiences that reversal of roles from where they started.
Why go through these lessons? David may write plays instead of novels or write in a different genre but he helps us examine our own methods and structures to dive deeper into a story and ask why we’re writing each story. The elements he uses for his stories use classic techniques that are related to the human experience.
We write because we want to share our experiences. Our audience get to live through our stories and experience the highs of being a hero, the lows during our weakest moments, and all the emotions that make us human. Story telling allows us to become what we want to be. We beat our bullies, get over our own tragedies, and as writers we get to write our own endings. There is power in what we do because it allows our audience to escape stress, tell our stories out loud, and we can even help our readers heal.
As we write, let’s ask those deeper questions and look at our structure to write better stories for our audiences.
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