A strong dramatic premise is fundamental to most successful stories.
Here are four tips to help you come up with a winning premise:
1. Make the premise as extraordinary and unique as you can:
Rehashing old ideas from past novels and films results in unoriginal and predictable stories. The premise of Jurassic Park was unique at the time, and the box-office receipts prove it.
In my own best selling Scarab series, the original premise is: What would happen to the world if a mysterious formula, buried inside in a secret chamber beneath the Sphinx of Giza, proves to be the final link in constructing a quantum computer that can change the laws of physics?
2. Ensure that the premise statement is clear and contains a strong set-up and pay-off:
Here’s an example: The daughter of a callous hospital director is abducted by an ex-surgeon whose child has failed to qualify for a liver transplant and has died as a consequence (set-up).
This is intriguing, but not enough to motivate the story. Here’s the pay-off:
The fired surgeon kidnaps the director’s own daughter and removes her liver. The director has to find a replacement for his child’s organ, within two days, or she’ll die.
“Together with good characterisation, emotive storytelling, good pacing, and a sense of verisimilitude, the story premise offers a method for successful storytelling.”
3. The concept must raise dramatic questions:
In this example, such questions are indeed raised: Will the hospital director manage to find a liver for transplantation and save his child? Will the kidnapper allow the child to die? Will the hospital director become a more compassionate and caring man, or will this experience fail to change him?
4. The premise evokes the entire story in its essential form:
Steven Spielberg defines high concept as a pithy sentence or paragraph that allows one to hold the entire story in the palm of one’s hand. A strong story premise does the same sort of thing. That’s not to say that it is predictable and devoid of twists and surprises, only that we know enough about the sort of story we’re about to experience, to hold our interest.
The dramatic premise is a short description of the story that acts as a blueprint for the entire tale. A strong premise is one that is unique, contains a strong set-up and a pay-off, and generates dramatic questions.