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Most Important
Image Composition: Dorian Cole. Images: Ezekiel53746, Creative Commons license,

What's the Most Important Element in Your Story?

Whether you are writing a novel or screenplay, there is one element that stands out as far more important than any other.

Is it an elaborate setting and description that sparkles and somehow makes everything stand out?

Is it sparkling prose?

Is it elaborate costumes that unmistakably state who your characters are?

Is it a serpentine plot that keeps your audience glued to their chair?

Is it the total uniqueness of your story?

Is it the crisp, colorful dialogue that expresses your character's thoughts?

Is it very colorful characters that the audience loves or hates?

Is it well choreographed action sequences?

All of these things are important, but no.

It's the interaction of the characters in their quest to get what they want.* It includes the dramatic tension established by diverse characters' desires brought into conflict, character traits, the plot, situation, dialogue, physical action, and events that propel the story forward. I personally sum this up as dramatic action, which is driven by the dramatic tension.

Dramatic action is a term that is used fairly extensively in theater, even in lists of term definitions, but it is used as a description of something that follows from drama, and is not itself defined. I use it as a description.

The character interaction creates the dramatic tension, and the dramatic tension influences dramatic action as the story progresses. This is what glues people to their chair.

Stories can be fully written with no set, no costumes, no indication of period, nothing unique, no choreography.... You can act it out in limbo (no set or costumes), and it is as effective and sometimes more effective without the distraction. The set is secondary to the dramatic action, unless you are using the set as a character.

Action is a physical or mental activity. Drama portrays life or character, or tells a story through emotion inspired action and dialogue. Dramatic action.

Interaction isn't the dialogue of one individual. It's the responses that follow. Interaction isn't a plot point. It's how characters react and interact within the plot point. Interaction isn't costumes. It's how characters respond to the power and position of that person. Interaction isn't a set, it's how characters interact with the set, even the set as a character. Interaction isn't physical action, it is how the characters respond to physical action.

Think of all of this interaction as dramatic action. It's the interaction between characters in so many ways.

Using the set as the third character

Story architecture: The set as the third character

Another view of Dramatic Action

* Some stories supposedly are about the story, not the people. Some action movies are about who wins, or triumph of good over evil. But even video games have people in them. We relate most strongly to people.

- Dorian Scott Cole

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First date of composition: February, 2015