Twin Premises – Planning Your Story

Macbeth and the twin story premises
Macbeth, like all great narratives, flows from
twin premises.

Most stories can be summed up through their twin premises. The one encapsulates characters and events, the other the moral message and its affects. But how does this work and why should a writer care?



For pantsers about to commence the writing of their story, the answer is that they might not care. Pantsers write from the seat of their pants, allowing inspiration to dictate their narratives.

Plotters, on the other hand, need to work out the story before hand, often meticulously planning every scene before beginning the actual writing of their screenplays or novels.

There are some, however, for whom the approach lies somewhere in between. Inspiration can indeed swoop in at any moment and take over the writing process, but in its absence, they need the security of a map. They’ve set sail too many times only to wash up on the rocks without one.

“The twin premises provide the blueprint for writing a story. The one premise indicates what sort of events need to occur and to whom. The other shapes the direction of these events into an outcome that reveals a moral lesson.“

An effective compromise, therefore, is to spend time thinking about the events and characters that would go into the story, while simultaneously trying to nail down the point of it all. Which brings us back to the first paragraph:

The Story Premise is a brief outline of the story that encapsulates the events generated by the central conflict, and the desire through-line of the protagonist. The story premise of Macbeth might be: An ambitious Scottish general embraces the prophesy of three old crones and the urging of his wife to murder King Duncan and usurp his throne only to succumb to guilt, paranoia and death.

This gives some indication of the major characters and narrative events that comprise the tale.

The Moral Premise, by contrast, is the theme of the story. It gives direction to the dramatic scenes that comprise the plot. In Macbeth this might be: Ruthless ambition leads to death and destruction while accepting one‘s place in the Great Chain of Being sustains societal order and life. Not a popular theme by today’s standards, but a central moral premise in the Elizabethan era, nonetheless.

The aim of the twin premises, then, is to create enough scaffolding to support the writing of a story. Both premises must be present for the story to work. Whether the yarn will turn out to be quite the Shakespearean masterpiece is, of course, another matter all together.

Summary

Most stories can be summed up through their twin premises. The one encapsulates characters and events, the other the moral message.

2 thoughts on “Twin Premises – Planning Your Story

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    In fiction there are certain characters that are as timeless as the themes they represent . These are normally very romantic ideas . This is because the characters are representing ideas that they them selves are prepared to die for.

    One such character is Robin hood who is arguably the most prolific hero in western culture. The idea of a one man army that lives of nature and commits deeds against the orders of the thrown. This is a especially powerful image because Robin hood becomes a symbol of rebellion who’s image still has relevance more then a thousand years later. The story premise of a mysterious outsider who robs from the rich to feed the poor : this is a very romantic idea .
    Robin hood’s moral premise : One man can make a difference against the forces of evil and oppression. Another myth is the ancient Chinese story of Mulan . The story premise : To spare the life of her father, a young woman assumes his identity to take his place in the army . Moral premise : Children must take the responsibility to defend there family’s honor.

    In short : The story and moral premise are only as powerful as the idea that your character represents.

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