It sometimes strikes me as odd when I read a book or watch a movie and find that I have enjoyed it even though the arching story wasn’t particularly interesting. On the other hand, I sometimes dislike a piece despite it being beautifully written.
I’ve come to realize that the reason for this is that there are three overlaying major strengths to every writer. Needless to say, there are many more underneath that, but what is clear is that becoming a prolific writer is not a linear journey. You must exercise different disciplines – attending to your weaknesses and building your strengths.
This is what is generally called the “idea”, “story” or “concept”. In some ways, although this may be the trickiest challenge at the start, it may require very little time to complete if you’re the creative type. It’s hard to find a good movie that has only a good plot. This is because, although contrary to some popular opinion, a good story doesn’t automatically make a good movie. I will take ‘Tron’ as an example of a clumsy movie that, although it had a great premise, the other two factors we will cover further on were simply not as strong.
“Moments” can also be referred to as “scenes” in a movie, but not chapters in a book. They are the short moments in which our characters are entangled. Its the smart use of unexpected events, quirkiness, humor and essential emotions. It’s what makes you cry and what makes you laugh. ‘Before Sunrise’, ‘Whiplash’ and ‘The Bicycle Thief’ are great examples films with a thin plot but rich in “moments”.
Finally, the literary style is what sometimes makes a book a simple joy to read. It’s the beauty in which the writers make use of their most important tool: words. In film, the literary style translates mostly into dialogue, although it can be found in other forms. The advantage with screenplays is that, unlike books, you can get a way with a poor literary style as long as the plot, moments and dialogues are solid. The director can take care of the style. A not-so-great example of this in movies is any Quentin Tarantino film. I don’t think it’s a great example because Tarantino generally does make very good use of plot and moments, but even if you were to remove those two, listening to the character’s dialogue is already a spectacular journey.
Having said all this, the secret to a great writer or an impeccable film is a combination of all three aforementioned talents in a prolific manner.