The purpose of a Premise is to establish thematic intent. With a clear idea of what is being said, the Author begins to see what is essential to the story, and what can be left out. In short, the Premise is structure.
An important question arises when searching for the unique Premise of a story. Are the characters doggedly pursuing the problem? Or is the problem doggedly pursuing the characters?
Six half, one dozen of the other, right?
Direction is everything when it comes to appreciating the meaning behind dynamic forces. How much? How little? Growing in strength, or weakening? What is the relationship between static items?
A Premise consists of two narrative Appreciations: the Subjective Premise and the Objective Premise. By singling out the areas where the subjective and objective views of conflict collide, these Appreciations allow an Author to appreciate the central message of their story.
Consider this Premise for The Lion King:
Give up running away, and you can reclaim the throne.
Simple, and to the point. And appropriate when considering the purpose of that film's central narrative argument.
Things literally turn around for Simba when he stops running away.
Now consider a Premise for another animated film with similar narrative Elements, Finding Nemo:
Give up preventing someone you love from getting hurt, and you can find your way home.
Doesn't quite sound like that film, does it? It's close, but there's something about it that doesn't feel right.
The reason for that disconnect in Nemo is the presence of a crucial essential dynamic.
The Static Elements of a Premise
Both Lion King and Nemo function on these similar Storypoints:
- Main Character Resolve of Changed
- Main Character Problem-Solving Style of Linear
- Story Outcome of Success
- Story Judgment of Good
- Story Goal of Obtaining
- Main Character Crucial Element of Avoid
Simba avoids the repercussions of his perceived hand in his father's death. Marlin avoids a repeat of the tragedy that befell his family. The latter appears as prevention in the narrative-- a current head-on version of the same motivation to Avoid.
Both characters turn things around by changing their world view, a conclusion they arrived at by deductive reasoning (If I do this, then that outcome will happen). They succeed and achieve their goal of gaining something.
Where they differ is in the relationship between the subjective experience of the Main Character and that attempt to achieve something in the external physical world.
Simba contends with his position as the future King of Pride Rock, a personal struggle no one else in the film experiences. Marlin's fight is altogether different. His individual conflict centers around fear--the genuine concern that he might lose his one and only remaining family member.
Simba is his own worst enemy. He needs to stop doing the things he does to avoid becoming King.
Marlin needs to step up to the plate and start doing things he has never done before.
The separation of Storypoint concerns between these two films explains the need for an alternate approach towards structuring a Premise.
The Feel of a Story
When you combine a Main Character Growth of Stop with a Story Judgement of Good, the narrative feels overwhelming--it feels as if the problems doggedly pursue the characters.
When you instead match a Story Judgment of Good with a Main Character Growth of Start, the narrative feels relatively surmountable--it feels as if the characters doggedly pursue the problem.
The nature of conflict in The Lion King is overwhelming. In Finding Nemo that same conflict appears surmountable. It's not easy, but the weight of conflict takes on a certain lightness in comparison.
The structure of the Premise can and must reflect that difference. And it does so through the direction.
In a Stop/Good story where the problems pursue the characters, the Subjective Premise appears before the Objective Premise:
Give up AVOIDING, and you can OBTAIN.
The source of conflict in both the Main Character and Overall Story points-of-view takes precedence as it pursues the character's intentions.
In a Start/Good story where the characters pursue the conflict, the Objective Premise--or intended Goal--goes first:
You can OBTAIN when you give up AVOIDING.
Do you feel the difference?
Set with specific Illustrations of Storytelling, the Premise for The Lion King still reads:
Give up running away, and you can reclaim the throne.
while the Premise for Finding Nemo now accurately reflects that film's essence:
You can return home when you give up preventing someone you love from getting hurt.
Again, not easy--but surmountable. And reflected in the order of the presentation of vital Elements in that film.
Order and Meaning and Premise
Change the order of events, and you change the meaning of them. Scrambling around for job interviews because your company is considering shutting down is much different than considering shutting down your company because everyone is looking for work elsewhere. Same two events, completely different dynamic relationship between them.
The same dynamic appears in the presentation of the Subjective and Objective Elements within a Premise. Place the subjective core first, and the narrative takes on a sense of overwhelming conflict where the problems chase the characters. Reverse it, and the characters chase the problems, making the resolution of conflict appear surmountable.
Determining the direction of Growth within your story sets the relationship of conflict between the objective external world and the subjective experience of your Main Character. It also helps you define what you should focus on in your story.
The narrative structure of a story is more than simply what happens when its a dynamic relationship between those events--a why they arrive when.
You can't have one without the other, and this latest addition to Subtext allows the Author to intuitively grasp both--resulting in a unique narrative structure for them to follow while developing their story.