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The meaning of the premise in storytelling. – Part II
In the first part, we stopped at the assertion that everything that occurs in a good piece was written in solely to prove the premise. Let’s take a look at an example from Lajo Egris’ book “Dramatic Writing”: Romeo and Juliet – a masterpiece of storytelling. Shakespeare’s premise is that great love even defeats death.
Even a brief review of the plot quickly reveals that each character, with all its motivations and qualities, is perfectly aligned to underpin the premise.
For Romeo and Juliet, the entire plot is a false path through obstacles. But with each obstacle that has to be overcome, the love between the two becomes deeper. Not only are they willing to give up their names, but they are also willing to confront the hatred of their two families. And although the families do everything in their power to bring the two apart, in the end it is love that blossoms in spite of all the adversities.
Great love even defeats death. This premise defines three essential things: the greatness of love, where love leads and how far it must go to win. From this one sentence one can deduce both the character and the conflict and resolution of history.
So much for Egris’s analysis.
And how do you find a suitable premise? Basically it seems necessary that the author is absolutely convinced of his central thought. Only then can he prove it credibly. Conversely, every writer draws the best conclusions from his own convictions in order to find a good premise for his next story. If the premise does not correspond to the author’s views, in most cases a bumpy plot emerges that quickly frays and loses sight of the essential.
For the viewer, on the other hand, it only plays a minor role if he shares the author’s conviction. He can feel very well entertained, even if the play doesn’t satisfy his own moral values. Just think of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” or other movies in which even the most sympathetic characters are unscrupulous murderers. We are happy to accept all this as long as the characters and the plot are convincing and conclusive in themselves.
And what significance does all this have for commercial storytelling? Exactly the same as for fictional storytelling. The main purpose of commercial stories is to arouse emotions and convince the viewer of a product or lifestyle.
Strong emotions, however, only arise from honest, comprehensible conflicts. At least when we talk about lengths beyond 30 seconds.
Since the digital revolution and the times of the Internet, commercial storytelling has increased, especially in the area of social media. Everybody is talking about content. Today, good content creates what the TV spot once achieved: Customer loyalty.
Meanwhile, we can no longer reach the customer before an evening TV show by booking a seat in the advertising block. Nowadays, it is the customer who – in the best case completely voluntarily and impatiently – searches for the company or its website or blog on the Internet. Why? Because there is something to discover and experience. Perhaps a series whose cliffhanger has made our user sleep restlessly since the last episode. Or a series of experiences around the brand, which are described in short episodes in an exciting way with interesting protagonists.
Everything is possible, everything is allowed. As long as it inspires us. And a really good story inspires us because its idea, its course, its storytelling rest on the foundations of a strong, coherent premise.