Substance vs. Style

Too many people focus on creating a dazzling plot loaded with action, special effects, gunfire, and explosions. Yet that’s not always the formula for success.

There’s an odd movie out right now that’s grabbing critical acclaim. This movie is called “The King’s Speech.” The title alone tells you briefly what the story is about, but it probably doesn’t grab you as something you must see. In a nutshell, “The King’s Speech” is about King George VI working with a speech therapist.

Sound exciting, right? Probably not, yet what makes “The King’s Speech” so compelling is that it tells a great story despite having a seemingly dull plot. What matters is the execution of that story.

Now look at the latest Angelina Jolie movie, “The Tourist.” If you’ve seen the previews, it shows plenty of action, gunfire, explosions, and beautiful women. Sounds like a formula for success, right? Unfortunately, no. Having a lot of action and a seemingly exciting plot involving intrigue and romance makes no difference if the execution falls flat.

Two people can take the exact same plot and one can turn it into an interesting movie while the second can turn it into a piece of junk. Just look at the similar plot between “Jaws” and “Jaws 4.” Both have the same idea of a shark attacking people, but while the original “Jaws” had a story, “Jaws 4” simply relied on mindless action.

What’s important in screenwriting isn’t necessarily an over the top story like killing evil zombies aor flirting with international espionage. What’s important is creating any story and filling it with interesting characters. Less is more.

Look at the first “Ironman” movie that turned out to be surprisingly good. Then look at the sloppier and messier “Ironman 2” which added more characters and thus diluted our attention, thus weakening the story. Add too much and you may think you’re adding interest, but you could really be diluting your story and taking away interest in any of your characters.

You can take any story and turn it into a great one. Likewise, you can take any seemingly exciting story and turn it into a mess. The difference is simply the way you tell that story and one way to tell an interesting story is to create characters we care about and avoid piling on action and additional characters just for the sake of putting something flashy and explosive on the screen.

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