There are at least four elements of every book and movie. The first is conflict. Conflict is the number one driving source for the plot and it defines the characters. Conflict is everywhere. It’s seen in the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist. If it’s a love story, the antagonist is anything that keeps the lovers apart. In the movie Seven starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, the conflict was not limited to the characters; it was the weather. A rainy day is conflicting for many people. Conflict is putting several characters in a room and each one has a different opinion. Conflict is trying to get through the woods to grandmother’s house before it get’s dark. Each scene must have a conflict with your novel or movie to be successful.
Sex and violence are the second. Now, this does not necessitously mean a hot three-way with the character Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Nor does this mean Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to blast his way through buildings hunting for Bruce Willis like in Premium Rush. Although it could be both of these things, it’s not limited to them. Sex could mean the tension between romantic characters like in, well, pretty much every movie ever. Sex and love is part of life and in almost every movie, film and novel there is always almost always a love interest or love subplot. Everything from action movies like The Expendables has a female character who has addressed the attention of the leading man. In Romancing the Stone, Kathleen Turner’s lonely character, Joan Wilder is on a mission to rescue her sister and along the way she meets heroic Michael Douglas.
As for the violence, a simple car accident where love-stuck Ashton Kutcher is pulling out of the driveway but watching his beautiful neighbor is, on some level, considered violence. There is also slap-stick violence like in many Adam Sandler movies. Playful pushing and shoving to a bully picking on a kid in Diary of a Wimpy Kid is still a level of violence, although we do not always consider it violent when compared to bloody films like Die Hard, Scarface or Biker Chicks in Zombie Town.
The third thing that ever novel or story contains is more about structure. No matter how short, long, romantic, violent, pornographic, hilarious or scary a movie is, it will always have a beginning, middle and an end. Simple as that. In fact, Earnest Hemmingway was once visiting with collections who were debating that Earnest Hemmingway could not have possibly written the world’s shortest story-only six words. He wrote the short story on a napkin and passed among his colleagues who all had agreed he won the bet. The short story was six simple words: For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
The final element that every book and movie contains is more tricky for novelists than for filmmakers. It’s audio and visual elements. A movie has moving pictures and there is noise. In a horror film and all the lights go out, audiences may still hear the heavy breathing of frustrated characters.
In books, this is a bit more tricky because novelists create images with words that will stay as words while screenwriters will write words that turn into physical images. But even as a novelist, it’s important to paint beautiful imagery depending on the genre of your book. The audio does not come from speakers that are connected to our television but instead comes from our thoughts and how we silently read the character’s dialogue and thoughts.
Together, these elements combined create a successful story. Story functions in a linear motion that may contain multiple subplots, flashback and even time-travel for science-fiction writers. Cause and effect push and pull the characters into growth so that by the end of the novel or movie, they have emerged from their trials and tribulations and grown into something better (or worse depending on your ending). Either way, they are different. The story causes the events that follow and drama is the effect. Catharsis and mimesis, imitating life. The plot is most important. A colorful cast of characters is great, but if there is no plot then they are just sitting around being boring.
Featured Image: Cinema Blend