How the Story Premise Drives the Tale

The dramatic premise in The Matrix

The dramatic premise in The Matrix

In his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lagos Egri offers a great way of pinpointing the premise of our tale prior to commencing the writing of the story itself. He instructs us to identify the story’s essence or theme—-the moral of the story.

Here are some examples of the story premise:

King Lear: Blind trust leads to destruction.

Ghosts: The sins of the fathers are visited on the children.

Romeo and Juliet: Great love defies even death.

Macbeth: Ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction.

Othello : Jealousy destroys itself and the object of its love.

Tartuffe: He who digs a pit for others falls into it himself.

The story premise reveals the protagonist’s motivation pitted against some cosmic justice. It is intimately linked to the character’s inner journey and his ability to learn from the threats arrayed against him.

The hero’s inner motivation relentlessly drives him to complete his journey—to reach for his goal. Importantly, the premise contains direction and momentum arising from the conflict between the hero’s emotions, other characters, and the world.

With that in mind, we can say that the premise explains the hero’s internal and external conflict, the outcome of which finally proves this very premise.

If we plug in the premise of The Matrix into this formula, for example, we come up with: Self-belief, though hard-fought, leads to victory over the enemy.

With this firmly in place, we can generate the log-line (the one-line synopsis of the plot), before moving on to the synopsis itself, the treatment, and the fist draft of our screenplay, or novel.

But these are topics For another article.


The story premise, or theme, is the foundation of the tale and drives the protagonist to achieve his goal by completing his inner journey.

2 thoughts on “How the Story Premise Drives the Tale

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Titanic and Jurassic park one is a biography the other a science fiction fantasy. These films basically have the same theme : Power and ambition through human innovation ultimately leads to destruction. In Titanic J. Bruce Ismay is obsessed with making sure that the largest ship ever build will reach headlines . He is quoted saying : Not even God can sink this ship. The captain later says : She’s made of iron and she will sink within an hour.

    In Jurassic Park Dr Iam Melcom is the first to criticize the founders of the park : ” Your scientists were so pre-occupied with what they were doing they did not stop to think if they should. Dinosaurs were selected for extinction , what do you think is going to happen if you suddenly toss humans in the mix?

    In short : Themes are not limited to genre.


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