Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Basics: Writing from a Premise

Lajos Egri's book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, brought into my world the idea of writing from a premise. As in having a plan.

I hate having a plan. Having a plan implies discipline and I'm not very good at being disciplined. Also, I like the idea of writing from my heart first, my gut second, and my brain last. Writing from a premise forces me to start from my brain. I find that confusing and immobilizing.

Egri begins his chapter on the Premise with this paragraph: A man sits in his workshop, busy with an invention of wheels and springs. You ask him what the gadget is, what it is meant to do. He looks at you confidingly and whispers, "I really don't know."

How many times have I been in that situation with a story? Especially my latest. I got 100 pages done and there I was. Neatly painted into a corner with no where to go and no way of knowing how to get past that. So premises are handy things but if one isn't a good planner then how do you do the premise thing?

So this is what I do. I start writing for a while and when I wind up in the corner I create my premise and go from there. I often have to rewrite pieces of the first part to fit the premise, but it works better than trying to start with one. For me, anyway.

So if you want to write from a premise either from the start or the middle, like me, here is what Egri says you need to have in a good premise.

First: A premise is a thumbnail sketch of your story. Sound familiar? That's one of the things editors and agents want in your pitch letter.

Second: It must include character, conflict, and conclusion.

Third: The writer must take a side in the conflict. There must be a point to prove and the story has to prove it.

Sounds easy, right? Not for me. I'm currently trying to lever a premise into my hundred page start and get myself out of my corner. Wish me luck.

Here are some examples of Egri's idea of a premise. Naturally every word has to mean something. I get tired of that rule too. The problem with ignoring the rules, though, is that it doesn't get you published.

Great love defies even death - Romeo and Juliet
Ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction - MacBeth
Poverty encourages crime - Dead End

If you want to know more about how Egri creates a premise, it's in his books. Click on them and you can buy them on Amazon.
The Art Of Creative WritingThe Art Of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis In The Creative Interpretation Of Human MotivesThe Art of Dramatic Writing

1 comment:

  1. Thanks--some helpful information there. But I caution all writers to balance 'rules' with instinct. And what works for one writer, doesn't always work for another, as you pointed out.