The 5 Key Elements of a Great Story
Every great story has five basic elements. These elements allow novelists and screenwriters to grab their reader’s attention and create a worthwhile story.
They are connected like building blocks and they carry their respective loads to keep your story balanced.
In this post, we are going to share with you the main screenwriting theories that help writers systematize their goals, structure, and techniques when writing a script. Let’s get started!
Every great story has several elements. And these elements are not secrets. They vary depending on the chosen storytelling theory.
However, they have common names that apply in different scenarios. And they include character, plot, want and need, conflict and resolution, and structure. Let’s discuss more them.
Every great story has a hero. Your main character or protagonist determines the outcome of your story. Without a hero and their courageous actions, there would be no need to write a story. The main character will grab your audience’s attention especially if they identify with and support them. In short, you need to create a hero who has likable qualities. And ensure that your audience can relate to them. A well-rounded character is usually perceived as authentic or believable.
Human beings are complex creatures. A hero should try to fix a huge flaw or problem. The problem that the hero has to fix allows the story to develop and progress. Problems can be in form of a villain, or an antagonist complementing a protagonist. Secondary characters should exist to support the plot. They allow the hero to make progress or make transformations.
Heroes who have everything at their disposal make a boring tale. They want and need usually define the protagonist in every good story. Their dreams, wishes, and desires motivate them to take action. Another thing that turns out to be a great solution to the existing problems is their need. The journey varies depending on the character and action that needs to be taken.
The internal journey is universal and reflective. It is something that should be learned and changed by the hero. Finding a solution to this flaw can mean finding trust, love, human connection, faith, survival, sacrifice, overcoming fear, or acceptance to name a few.
The plot or storyline is a series of events involving actions and occurrences. The plot puts together the events in your story and guides your audience towards the big question: Why does this happen? The plot and character affect everything in your piece. The plot of a good story follows a specific pattern. Each number varies depending on the storytelling theory. Modern storytelling approaches feature several master plots. The one thing you should keep in mind is the common denominator shared by stories having different plots.
For instance, think of a hero’s journey. A hero goes on a quest to find something worthwhile and obtains victory after several crises. He or she then returns having transformed or changed his world. The storyline is not a genre. If romance is the genre, most writers feature the encounter of two individuals by fate or chance. After falling in love, they work hard to overcome obstacles to stay together before it ends tragically or happily ever after.
Now that you have a hero, their wants and needs, and the plot, you need to introduce structure.
Structure gives order and helps in creating a unified whole. Structure and plot are closely linked. The storyline dictates the events that will take place. And structure dictates when they should occur.
In every good story, timing is everything.
Your story will feature events with delayed or immediate effects. A common term used to describe these events is story beats. They are units that link together the events of a story.
The amount and distribution of story beats vary depending on the storytelling technique. They help in achieving the ideal rise and fall of action that will keep your readers on the edge.
A tense plot makes a story entertaining and interesting.
Two individuals who fall in love spend their lives together is a common love story. However, a hero who pursues love despite hate and denial is more intriguing. You should always strive to introduce tension in your story. The antagonist can be a rival, villain, or external circumstances such as the entire society.
When you increase the power of the opposition, you’ll be able to increase tension. Conflicts drive heroes out of their present circumstances. As they grow, their need to take control takes over their wants until they are transformed at the resolution.
Now that you know the five elements of screenwriting, you need to figure out which element comes first. You can easily avoid huge problems that arise at different writing stages if you choose a plot or character as a starting point. You should define the hero by their actions.
Your readers will always follow the main character. Therefore, it makes sense to start your story with them. Ensure that your main character is well-rounded and give them a flaw or problem, a need that they should discover, or a want that they should pursue. In most instances, proactive characters make good heroes – they always go for what they want. Then introduce the obstacles, opposition, or conflict. Over time, they will discover the root of the problem and their true need.
Create a main character who wants to make major changes with a specific flaw or problem. And make it impossible for them to remain in their current environment. Ensure that they keep going after a goal against a strong opposition which eventually helps them get enlightened about themselves. When you define the protagonist, a plot for them will naturally crystallize.
The opposite can seem counter-intuitive. However, putting the plot before the character is a classic technique that goes way back to Aristotle. Allow the protagonist to talk however they want in the story. And leaders will recognize and judge them. A beat sheet and story beats are essential especially if you know the kind of story that you’ll write and need to have lots of characters. Write down the events that will occur and create an image of the person who will go through them. The structure of the plot should not be rigid. It is a craft that you can easily shape however you want. The journey and characters are the key ingredients of a unique story.
Here is a mini-sheet that you can use to ensure that your story has all the important elements:
- Character: Define your hero, the flaws or problems that they have, and how they can be recognized. Also include their character traits.
- Want and need: What does the main character want to do? How is it linked to their problem or flaw?
- Plot: Are there archetypes that complement your story?
- Structure: Define the beats of your story and how events create a unified whole
- Conflict and resolution: Define the opposing force working against the hero. Figure out how you’ll create tension.
We have discussed extensively the theories that you should use to create structure and achieve your goals. To write a good story, you need to learn from others by reading their works. What will you start doing today to improve your screenwriting skills?