Take a drink of Cool Water with Dianne Warren’s wonderful book set in the sand dunes of
There are so many things I loved about this book, but one thing that intrigued me (and took me back to university days) was that the structure, despite so many story lines, seemed to conform to the “three unities” of classic drama, as set out by Aristotle, and further refined by 17th century French playwrights. The unities of action, time and place stipulate that the story take place roughly within a 24-hour time period, that it all happen in one location, and that the action be limited to one main idea with few subplots. Although Warren’s book is nothing like what one would associate with classical theatre, it does in fact fit these criteria fairly well.
The unity of time criterion is met, as the events unfold during the course of one day. Lee Torgenson awakens in the middle of the night to the sound of a horse galloping. He ignores this at first, since he is often plagued by phantom hoofbeats, but eventually gets up to discover a real horse outside. The horse does not protest when Lee saddles him, and so, with the light of the moon to guide them, they begin their 24-hour adventure together.
A long-distance horse race that took place many years earlier is described in the prologue. Starting at the buffalo rubbing stone just to the north of town, two cowboys outlined a 100-mile perimeter around the local hills and sand dunes. When Lee sets out on horseback, he inadvertently traces the same path as the cowboys. This historic path sets the parameters for the unity of place:
Although Lee’s adventure starts the action, and literally draws a boundary around the story, there are many other tales that unfold. Aristotle thought that unity of action was the most important of the three, and that there must be only one main story or plot. Any other action should contribute to that plot in a structured, cohesive way, so that “…the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole.” 
In this case, the “plot” is to show the interconnectedness of the various people in the book and
This is a very satisfying book.
1-Aristotle, Poetics, VIII