The Premise

The order of events has meaning. A slap followed by a scream means something entirely different than a scream followed by a slap.

This is why the Premise is so essential to the outline of your story.

What you want to say determines the order of events. An argument that leads to Triumph will begin and end in a completely different place than a Cautionary Tale or Tragedy. For example, the following is the Premise for Rain Man:

Virtuous are those who become part of a family by letting something go

Charlie (Tom Cruise) gives up the inheritance so he can be a brother to Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). This ending requires a different narrative structure than if Charlie had decided to take the money and run. Assuming Charlie wouldn't feel great about it, the Premise for that bleak version of Rain Man would be:

However bleak, when you abandon overseeing someone you can gain a fortune.

Not quite as Oscar-worthy--even if it did have a "save the cat" moment or "refusal of the call." 😄

This is why templates based on cultural mythology, heroic journeys, or saving cats ultimately fall apart--they don't mean anything. Narrative structure is simply ordered thought: an organization of a story's meaning into a thematic blueprint of communication.

Subtxt analyses your theme and then gives you an outline that communicates its message.

No two Premises are the same. However, there are some stories that consist of the same core Argument--even if on the surface they appear to be completely different.

Finding Nemo makes the same argument that Michael Mann makes in Collateral:

Finding Nemo: You can secure your family when you get out of your way, and abandon preventing someone from getting hurt
Collateral: You can escape something when you get out of your way, and abandon avoiding being killed

Both make the argument that you can Obtain something once you get out of your way and abandon Avoiding.

Likewise, Birdman conveys the same argument as Star Wars:

Birdman: Abandon being examined by a group and you can fly anywhere
Star Wars: Abandon trying to validate yourself and you can fight an Empire

Both make the argument that abandoning a Motivation of Test will allow you to Do something.

The Lion King and Black Panther make the same argument. (Come to think of it, those two really aren't all that different on the surface either!):

The Lion King: Abandon running away and you can secure your place in the circle of life
Black Panther: Abandon steering clear of conflict and you can secure your place in the circle of life

Selecting the right Premise for your story is the most important decision you need to make when starting to write your story. If you don't know what your story is about, how are you going to decide what to write about?

© 2022 Narrative First, Inc.