A friend asked me “What do you expect in a story line?” I could not explain what my expectations were, although in my mind, my answers were under process. I would answer that I had no particular expectations in a story line, or I would like a movie, TV series or a book whenever I felt like it. With my mind under process, I constantly knew my expectations in a good story line. The following are the ingredients that makes a plot worth appreciating.
*A deep and original plot.
The plot must also be well-distinguished and should not be easily imitated by any author/producer.
*Action, drama, comedy, thriller, and sometimes gore, and supernatural elements rolled into one.
These elements add flavor to a so-called unique and well-developed story line, which makes it more enjoyable to tune into.
*The presence of psychological and philosophical aspects.
It is true that some (even many) are already satisfied with books, films and TV series that are produced only for pure entertainment. I am one of the people who is not merely satisfied with entertaining oneself but is rather obsessed with story lines providing messages to the audience. The psychological and philosophical aspects (not necessarily the Voltaire, Rousseau or Plato kind of philosophy. As long as the story makes the audience think, it will be fine.) are what makes the story line deeper, enhancing enough to develop the audience’s critical thinking. I would prefer a story line that makes the audience think, making them reflect about life and teaching them the most important lessons in life. But I would also consider such story lines that are enjoyable.
*A good and realistic twist – not the shallow and unlikely-to-happen kind of twist.
*Excellent character development – wherein a character in the story is given particular attributes (bio data, personality, talents, hobbies & interests..) as if it was a real-life person.
*Plot coherence – meaning to say that the plot should be realistic.
This is not a question of including supernatural elements but rather on whether a certain circumstance is likely to happen if it were to occur in the real world. Examples of realistic elements in the story are a military environment that is as strict as in the real world, the training of soldiers that is as intensive and takes as long and a reconciliation between long-time frenemies (friends turned into mortal enemies or rival siblings) that does not happen in a day. Should the story be fantasy or real-life based, including such elements are what makes the plot believable.
*A concrete progression of the plot.
The progression must be felt by the audience as to determine whether a certain film or book has a story line. It would be perceived as random otherwise, filled with unconnected scenes that does not build a plot (thus, a film or a book with no story line).
*An outstanding art and animation – for cartoons, anime, other animated works and movies with animated scenes.
*An attractive yet realistic special effects – especially for action, fantasy, horror, and animated films and series.
Exaggerated special effects (or special effects that has nothing to do with the story line concept and is considered unnecessary) are seen as unrealistic.
*And finally, a good overall audience impact (and enjoyment).
The most important ingredient in creating a good story line. An element wherein the audience is so much hooked to a certain show that will not make him or her leave the chair until the entire series is finished. An element wherein the audience will suffer from post-series (movie, book..) depression that will provide difficulty for him or her to move on, or do other things. An element wherein those sad dramatic scenes will actually make the audience cry. An element wherein the fight action scenes will make the audience feel he or she is actually watching a live battle match, or those comedic acts that provoke laughter throughout the theater. An element wherein blood is actually feared with passion, or those gore, horror, suspense, dark psychological thriller, fantasy and supernatural aspects actually create fear and air of mystery and suspense. An element where murderous acts provoke feelings to the audience as though real murders are committed or murder investigations that makes the audience part of the detective team. An element wherein the lighthearted comedies warm the audience hearts or romantic scenes that give chills of love. In short, an element wherein the story actually moves the audience. Otherwise, there is no impact.
Examples of works with good story lines are as follows.
*Harry Potter (J.K Rowling)
There’s no need to speak of the plot since we all heard about this famous trilogy. There are several themes that lie behind this best-selling fantasy novel, such as love, friendship, camaraderie, concern for loved ones, fight for peace and justice and against evil, bravery, hunger for power (for villains) and self-determination. Besides, the plot is difference from typical witch novels and plays, wherein the witches are more known as evil creatures that hunt and eat children or influence evil deeds onto a person with good morals. In Harry Potter, however, witches and wizards are categorized as heroes and villains. The heroes for sure fight against the villains, who seek to gain power through numerous murders and killings (the reason why they are called Death Eaters). The Muggles (otherwise known as humans with no witchcraft powers) do not have huge roles compared to wizards but are revealed to be in Harry’s side.
*The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon)
A story about a 15 year old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who seeks to know the murderer of the neighbor’s dog called Wellington. I appreciate how the author comes up with a typical story of an AS child, a perspective of the world coming from a teen affected by Asperger’s and how the atmosphere of the novel goes from lighthearted to bleak, then having a light ending once again. Besides I find it heartwarming witnessing the life story of a boy with special needs, most particularly how he survives in his daily struggles in coping with the outside environment, understanding and dealing with human emotions. I also find it humorous (not in a mocking way) and thrilling how the main character strives to investigate a dog’s death and teary-eyed seeing how the boy finds out about his mother who actually left him and his father. The portrayal of the teen with Asperger’s Syndrome is rather realistic, not giving the readers a false idea of how children and teens with same condition are like.
*A Series of Unfortunate Events (Lemony Snicket)
A bleak satirical tale about three orphan siblings who are struggling for survival after their parents died in a fire. The author has given several literary references in his known work, by naming characters and places after authors and other legendary historical figures (e.g. the Baudelaire siblings are named after the French poet Charles Baudelaire..), and introducing black humor, satire, adventure-like children novel elements as done in many works of literature. This book (I mean trilogy) mainly tells us of the cruel and gruesome fate that the rich siblings are facing (therefore implying the idea that the rich are not always lucky with their lives), and that mysteries will always remain unsolved no matter how we strive to solve them piece by piece. I am far as impressive how Lemony Snicket turned his supposedly tragic tale similar to Shakespeare’s King Lear, wherein neither the heroes nor villains have reached victory.
*Full Metal Alchemist (anime/manga)
Despite the redundancy of the dialogs (in the manga, at least), Full Metal Alchemist has a deep philosophical story line in itself. It makes the audience reflect on how manipulative the government or any authoritative figures can be, as shown through the homunculi (creatures of God the Father in the series) creating war yet blaming it on the civilians and expecting them to start the war itself. Another philosophical interpretation lies in the practice of human alchemy, making the audience wonder why such practice is illegal. It is revealed that such practice will just surpass the power of any human (which is considered unethical).
*Death Note (anime/manga/live action)
Another manga/anime that has philosophical aspects behind the story line. It is a story of a young man called Light, who, after finding a Death Note on the streets, becomes the God of his own World called ‘Kira‘ and seeks to kill the criminals by writing their names on the Death Note. Meanwhile, a person called L and his detectives are searching to exterminate him, believing that he is the root of the increased killings of criminals and such practice is still considered crime. A reflection upon the opposing ideologies of peace and justice is revealed throughout the manga (or anime), through Light’s and L’s point of views. Light believes that he’ll create justice in killing the criminals with the Death Note, while L, on the other hand, thinks that such practice is not justifiable enough. Instead, he considers the traditional practice as most policemen, wherein criminals are usually put to prison.
*Sweeney Todd (Tim Burton)
A film based on madness, insanity, alienation and revenge. I appreciate how Tim Burton manages to play on such themes, introducing a story line wherein a man called Sweeney Todd seeks to avenge his wife and daughter by killing the ones who kidnapped them years ago and ends up killing both his assistant and himself due to increased and uncontrollable insanity. As a Tim Burton aficionado, I cannot deny loving his dark, eerie and burlesque setting, the obscure bleak atmosphere, the introduced black humor, the play-on-themes that are usually perceived as disturbing and the catchy musical songs.
*Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke)
A movie about a recently turned 13 girl called Tracy, who, from being an A student and an inner poet, has fallen into a negative pitfalls of being an adolescent such as drugs, alcohol, and skipping classes after befriending a popular girl in school called Evie. Despite giving an exaggerated idea on the harsh life of being a teen, it lets the audience reflect on the struggles of being an adolescent in general. The revealed struggles in the film include the negative influence of media (it is seen that Tracy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, is somehow affected by the thin models on billboards and wishes to be as cool as them), peer pressure (good girls being pushed to do bad things in order to be accepted), family struggles (Evie has encountered a harsh youth, being raised by her distant aunt who is a bad influence in a way that she’s undergone several plastic surgeries that ruined her face) and friendships leading to betrayal (it is further revealed that Evie took advantage of Tracy after the latter told that her parents couldn’t adopt Evie). These struggles can also be witnessed in real life and no matter how harsh the film can get, it still gives several lessons in life regarding teenage years.
To summarize, a great story line for me subjects to the following conditions: an enjoyable story line that moves the audience, a story meddled with action, emotional, comedy, thrill and gore scene elements, a story that everyone can relate to, and a deep and unique story line that makes the audience think and provides the most important lessons in life. A definition of a great story line clearly depends on people’s plot expectations. Some may prefer tuning into stories with more depth, while the others are more contented with stories made solely for pure entertainment.