A good dramatic story can be summed up in three words: Change over time. For those who think in formulas, it looks like this:
So what does that mean?
In practical terms, every story has its own time frame. It starts at a certain point that we think of as the beginning, and it ends at another that we think of as the end. Sometimes, the narrative of a story might start somewhere in the middle. We’ll get to that later when we discuss narrative structure. For now, we are discussing the core nature of a story, which is always the same.
There is a beginning, middle and end.
The beginning is where it starts. The middle is where it all happens. And the end it stops.
So what changes…?
Usually, it’s the people in your story. Specifically, it’s your two main characters: the Protagonist and the Antagonist. The Protagonist is your Main Character. The main character is the hero of your story. The main character is the one who has something that she or he wants so badly that they will stop at nothing to obtain that goal. The Antagonist is the Villain in your story. Like your main character, the villain also wants something so badly that she or he will stop at nothing to obtain that goal.
What ties these two characters together is a Unity of Opposites. What the Protagonist wants precludes the Antagonist from having what she or he wants, and vice versa. Since they’re both willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill that want, only one of them can win. This dynamic — two opposing forces trying to accomplish mutually exclusive goals — is what creates the conflict in a story.
As the Protagonist and the Antagonist move toward achieving their goals, they come in conflict with each other. How each chooses to overcome the obstacles put in front of them reveals who these characters are and determines what the story is about.
In each of these characters an opposing point of view about the world is being presented. Each represents an ethos and set of values put forth by the writer. In determining who emerges victorious, the writer is making an argument for how she or he sees the world. In this victory, the Theme is made manifest.
To write smart, it’s essential to know your Protagonist and Antagonist and be clear about what they represent. It’s also essential to make sure that there is a Unity of Opposites that creates a believable conflict between these two parties to justify the climactic confrontation that takes place at the end of your movie.