The meaning of the premise in storytelling. – Part I
There are stories that inspire us. Stories that take us to distant places and let us look deep into the souls of their protagonists. Stories that captivate us so much that we would like to do nothing more than read on, look further or listen further.
And then there are stories that would actually have what it takes to do what we have just described with us, but somehow the spark doesn’t want to jump over. It doesn’t bother us if an advertising break interrupts the plot or if it rings at the front door in the middle of the movie. We get up to open the door and even before we reach the door, we can’t even say what the movie or the book was about.
It’s not always due to the writer’s language or narrative. It’s also not necessarily due to the performance of the actors. In many cases it’s not even the plot.
And yet: Something is not right. We feel it exactly. As if the fate of the characters were running past us, leaving us cold and drawing out an imperial yawn at most. And with that we are already quite close to the heels of the matter. In fact, part of what we feel lies in the credibility or un credibility of the characters.
The basis of every good drama is the orchestration of the figures. Only when the positions of the characters are as close as possible to each other can the maximum drama be skimmed off a situation. For most experienced writers, orchestration is one of the first things they determine long before they release the characters from each other in a dialogue.
But how exactly do you find these positions of maximum potential? Quite simply, they almost fall into your hands by themselves once you have understood the premise of the piece.
And what exactly is a premise?
First of all, a premise is nothing more than a statement or assertion that leads to a conclusion. But for a story, this assertion or statement has an extremely elementary meaning. It is from it that the driving force of the action arises. It is like the seed from which the plant grows.
Other terms for the word premise would be: Topic, thesis, central thought, insight or objective. The premise can also express an underlying emotion.
A good premise could be accordingly: Those who dig a pit for others fall into it themselves; or laziness leads to ruin; even poverty favors crime would be a practicable premise.
It is not decisive whether the premise contains a fundamental truth. Which truth is fundamental? Rather, it is important that the piece and its characters remain true to this truth once it has been established. That every action of every character, every turning point, every external event serves the sole purpose of supporting and proving the premise.
How this works in detail is revealed in the second part of this article using a masterly example (this last sentence is, by the way, a classic cliffhanger – something that we will also encounter again in the second part).