Moral Premise — how to write it.

Lagos Egri on the moral premise
Lagos Egri on the moral premise

Although I’ve written about the moral premise before, it’s such an important topic that it warrants revisiting. Coming up with a good premise, after all, is the first step you take in creating your story. It’s the seed from which your tale will sprout. Or, if you will, the essential core or meaning of the story you wish to write. It is also the chief theme of your tale. The moral premise is, therefore, the first thing a writer should formulate before beginning to write. A writer must first know exactly what he wants to say, why he wants to say it, and how far he wants to go in saying it. 

The famed teacher, Lagos Egri goes on to mention that if you intend to write a story about greed, for example, you need to know precisely what it is that you want to explore about it and what direction the story will take. Condensing your story to its premise, you have: 

Greed leads to destruction, or greed leads to humiliation, or greed leads to isolation, or greed leads to loss of love.

Use the words that express your idea perfectly, knowing that it is the moral essence of your story. It may be brief and concise, or slightly more descriptive. Your premise should include the basic facts about the character, the conflict and its resolution. 

“The moral premise differs from a normal premise in that the former contains the moral or ethical core of the story.”

It takes the form: Character/Subject + Conflict/Verb + Resolution/Object.

The first part of the premise should represent the dominant character trait. For example: honesty, dishonesty, selfishness, ruthlessness, false pride, etc. 

The second and third parts should represent the conflict and its resolution: dishonesty leads to exposure, or, ruthless ambition leads to destruction, etc. 

A moral premise entails a result. You, therefore, need to know the end of your story before you start to write it. This is because your premise depends on the outcome of the final conflict, typically between the protagonist and antagonist. Only then will you know if greed does indeed lead to destruction, humiliation, isolation, or loss of love in your specific story.

Finally, note that the premise encapsulates a moral aspect, which tends to dictate the kind of ending your story resolves into.

In stories that resolve in an “up ending” good triumphs over evil. A “down ending” has evil Triumphing over good. In the latter, your premise might well be: Greed can lead to a successful life devoid of suffering. You should be aware, however, that down endings tend to do less well in the realm of popular fiction, although there are always exceptions.


A moral premise contains the essence or meaning of your story. It is the blueprint that informs the writing of your tale.

2 thoughts on “Moral Premise — how to write it.

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Knowing your ending before you start writing. That’s a great tip, especially if you want a satisfied viewer/reader. Each character has there own set of moral values and the conflict is a result when these values are put top the test.

    Madame is a 2017 French comedy-drama film. In the film a wealthy woman convinces her maid to pretend to be a rich Spanish friend and join the table. To avoid embarrassment the family goes along with the lie thus tricking a wealthy dinner guest into believing that the maid comes from a wealthy family. The maid and the guest fall in love. As the there relationship blossoms her employer’s marriage begins to crumble. The wealthy woman secretly begins to cheat on her husband who also begins to see other woman behind his wife’s back. After learning the maid’s true identity the wealthy dinner guest needs to make a choice. This may be a comedy but it does not star Hugh Grant. There is no declaration of love. Instead he brakes all contact with her. By doing this he manifest how shallow he is : the only reason why he was interested in her was because he believed her to be a woman that comes from a wealthy family. Long story short : The maid who has a strong moral compass eventually resigns and moves on with her life.

    The real problem with this film is that it feels unfinished BUT it has a very strong moral core: Wealth and success does not equal happiness. Perhaps why the film does not work well is because the ending makes it feel more like a drama then a comedy.

    In short : Before you write your ending you need to know what is your core moral message and the reader/viewer needs get the message by the end of the story.


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