So you’ve come up with an exciting idea for this year’s ScriptFrenzy. Your screenplay/stageplay/teleplay is dramatic, thought-provoking, and most of all entertaining. That’s great! I want to hear all about it.
In ten seconds or less. How about in ten words or less?
We call this the premise, and it can come in many forms, but being able to state your main conflict in one simple sentence will help keep your thoughts focused as you continue to flesh out the details of your story. “The premise should be the driving force behind every event in your screenplay. A good premise is derived from emotions–love, hate, fear, jealousy, desire, etc.–and revolves around a character, a conflict and a conclusion” (http://www.fathom.com/course/21701762/session1.html).
Here are some different types of premises you might have already encountered.
1. What If?: Basically, you want to know what will happen given a certain situation: What would happen if a shark swam into a beach resort and devoured a vacationer? JAWS.
2. The Logline: Look no further than your local TV listings: Molly Ringwald is an underpriviledged Cinderella choosing between two prom princes: a charming preppy (Andrew McCarthy) and a disarming buddy (Jon Cryer).
3. When, Then: If you follow this format, you can’t lose: When Dr. Emmet Brown, enjoying a peaceable existence in 1885, is about to be killed by Buford “Mad Dog” Tannen, then Marty McFly must travel back in time to save his friend. BACK TO THE FUTURE III
4. Or you might just rely on a general concept: Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew set in a modern day high school. TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU
No matter which type of premise you choose to get your point across, there a few things to keep in mind. You’ll want to have some idea who the main character and the antagonist are, what their conflict is, what change will result from the conflict, and why the main character needs to take action.
Sometimes writers don’t find their premise until after they’ve fully explored their characters and plotlines. The best way to accomplish this is to write a treatment of your screenplay. Treatments are written in present tense in a narrative form and is a moment-by-moment outline of each scene that includes information on setting, characters, subtext, subplots, and inner motivations. Treatments can be anywhere from one to 100 pages or more. It all depends on how in depth you want to get. Using the treatment as a pre-writing exercise allows your thoughts to roam unchecked. By the time you’ve finished, you may find your idea is more solid or it might have changed completely. Regardless, you’ll be more organized and focused when it comes to writing scenes.
Exercise One: Write a premise for your script idea in one sentence.
Just so you know I’m really doing this too, here’s mine: While on a quest to find her estranged sister, a Night Elf assassin uncovers a conspiracy that could bring down the entire Alliance faction, thus discovering the real reason behind their father’s execution.
Exercise Two: Write a treatment, or an expanded outline, for your script idea covering all the major and minor characters and plots. Include scenes and bits of dialogue as they reveal themselves.
Next week, we’ll discuss character and characterization.