The Greek philosopher Aristotle identified six elements of drama: plot, characters, theme, dialogue, rhythm and spectacle. Those elements still apply today, whether we’re talking about a stage play, a written feature story or a YouTube video. Here’s a quick look at each:
Plot: The series of events that drives the story. Also can be called conflict, or obstacle. We like to call it the monster: something big and bad that the main characters have to defeat.
Characters: Interesting individuals who live out the plot. Good stories reveal their personalities, strengths, weaknesses and motivations.
Theme: The broader point behind the story. We call this the universal truth. Think of Jesus’ parables. The themes of the Prodigal Son, for instance, are rebellion, loss and redemption. The Good Samaritan? True compassion.
Dialogue: The words spoken by the characters or written by the author. The style of language and conversation. In a film or play, dialogue brings the plot and characters to life. In a written story, too, dialogue between characters places the reader on the scene with them. And, it removes the filter of the writer’s voice. Dialogue is one of the most-powerful and least-used tools in journalism.
Rhythm: In stage or film, rhythm equals the music chosen. It sets a mood and pace for the story being told. Think of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its opening use of “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Or any Disney animated film and its bouncy, memorable soundtrack. Writing can contain rhythm, too. To convey urgency or action, use short sentences and short paragraphs. To slow the pace and provide some thought or backstory, use longer sentences and paragraphs.
Spectacle: Visuals and special effects. Aristotle saw spectacle as the least artistic element of drama. It’s important, but it should be used sparingly. Spectacle contributes to story but it doesn’t tell the story. To a visually oriented society like ours, spectacle is so powerful that it can drown out the other elements and destroy the story. See: Just about any action movie.
More about these elements in the coming days as we examine how they pertain to telling effective stories from the mission field.