We are at the VERY BEGINNING of the writing process for a great story idea you have been toying with for years. Do you buy screenwriting software and plug in your characters and start typing away? Answer: NO. THIS IS THE DEATH KNELL FOR A STORY. AFTER A FEW PAGES, YOU WILL BE LOST.
TAKE YOUR TIME AND…Start with the Premise. A premise in screenplay writing is also called a Log Line. If you stand in a parking lot and yell across to a friend and tell the friend what the story is about, you should require only one or two sentences. In Premise talk, you should be able to tell what your story is about in approximately 25 words or less.
A Premise is a combination of character and plot. It is NOT theme, not a character’s weakness, not every detail in the story, not a sequence of events. It should include the following:
The inciting incident
The main character
The outcome (highly summarized) of the story
A Premise gives you the “High Concept” of the story. The “high concept” is the premise with a flip. The Premise should also enable the reader to tell what the genre is in those concise 25 words. The Premise should NEVER be the same as a movie you have seen. The Premise should never be an idea that you cannot develop into a story that has all the structure beats.
Here are examples of some famous Premises:
JAWS – Great white shark eats tourists off a small East Coast island community; a conflict-avoiding, water-phobic sheriff has to go out and kill it. (24 words)
The Inciting Incident in JAWS is when someone is eaten alive by the Great White. The main character is the sheriff. The outcome of the story is that the Great White is killed.
MRS. DOUBTFIRE – a Divorced Dad who misses his kids disguises himself as a British nanny and is hired by his ex- so he can see his kids more. (26 words)
The Inciting Incident in MRS. DOUBTFIRE is when the divorced dad is told by a judge that his wife has sole custody of his kids. The main character is the divorced dad. The outcome of the story is that the divorced dad will be able to see his kids.
THE FIRM – A young lawyer joins a law firm, only to be told by FBI he’ll be indicted soon since it is Mafia-owned; no one quits. (25 words)
The Inciting Incident in THE FIRM is when the young lawyer joins a law firm. The main character is the young lawyer. The outcome of the story is that the young lawyer will find a way out of the Mafia-owned firm without getting killed.
Please open the pdf attachment in our Blog: Premise Examples. This is a page from a typical cable t.v. listing of films for the week. Note that several films are about 50 years old. The Premise Line concept was not as prevalent with the older films. In the 1980’s, the Premise Line concept started to be a requirement by the Hollywood studios.
Practice writing down the 3 main components of each Premise Line. Be aware of the “High Concept” and the genre for each film. The more you do this exercise, the better equipped you will be to start writing your own Premise Lines.