So, I've been thinking about story structure a lot today (a 10 hour shift will do that), specifically ADVENTURE! stories.
A lot of this comes from the above image from Darwyn Cooke's revival of Will Eisner's The Spirit (which is a good, pulpy read, by the way)
Action. Mystery. Adventure.
Those are great criteria, but I'd like to tweak it a little bit for heroic ADVENTURE! stories since “adventure's” already in there.
Action. Mystery. Romance. Those are my three pillars of ADVENTURE!
This is the meat of the matter. Fisticuffs, shootouts, missile dropkicks, swordfights, car chases, dogfights, dudes jumping away from exploding buildings. Stuff happens. Exciting stuff. Stuff that the hero consciously chooses to partake in. Heroes and villains take actions. Even traveling to an exotic location counts here as a conscious choice because that often triggers a bunch of other actions. Indiana Jones choosing to go to Egypt is an action that leads to all kinds of crazy events. The exact opposite is inaction, which is how you end up with low budget 50's Sci-Fi movies where you get 20 minutes of screen time (or more) spent sitting around in a room talking.
Mystery is what the hero has to solve or deal with. How do we blow up the Death Star? Where's One-Eyed Willy's treasure buried and how do we get there? What's magic and how do you becomes a wizard? This is where Wonder comes into play, because mystery doesn't have to be the plot itself, but also plot devices. Magic items, alien technology, arcane lore, forbidden rituals, secret societies. Not all mysteries are solvable, but the hero needs to be curious enough to investigate it.
At the surface level, this involves smoochin', but its so much more than romantic love (or the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket). I mean Romance closer to the chivalric sense. These are the ideals that the hero and others hold dear. Yes, love for a man or woman, but it can also be the love for their memory and a search for justice against their killer. It could be love for a dream or country that drives someone to self-sacrifice in atonement for betraying someone. If you don't care about (or at least understand) the hero's motivation, you're not going like the hero. If you don't like the hero, you're going to hate the story.
These are deliberately broad terms that aren't set in stone for me yet. After all, its entirely possible for a story to have all three pillars and still leave me flat, like James Cameron's Avatar (it comes down to the execution of the material, but that's an analysis for another time), and I think its entirely possible for a movie to be deficient in one or all of the categories and still be great. (The Producers is one of my favorite movies of all time and there's very little ADVENTURE! to be had at all).
Still, I think this is part of why there's a sudden interest in the old pulp masters like Robert E. Howard and Leigh Brackett. Because those stories are filled to bursting with it.