Part One: The Premise.
So, it might have taken me nearly half a year to get here but here I am, staying true to my word, and beginning my philanthropic odyssey to sweep away the clouds of confusion and give anyone who really would like to write a script at least a couple of tools with which to do it. (Here's a tip for free: Try to write SHORTER SENTENCES than that last one!) Think of me as the lighthouse on your stormy night, a beacon of hope as you crash against the waves of inexperience on your journey towards the New World of being a screenwriter.
Ridiculous strained metaphors aside, I'm here to explain as much as I can the way I like to do things and the thought processes behind them. I hope it will help those who are just starting out, as well as myself by clarifying the process in my own mind. Strangely, writing and thinking about writing are not always bedfellows. I also hope it will provide a forum for discussion about the topics and practices involved because there's always scope for everyone to learn something from somebody else.
So let's begin with the tiniest seed of a screenplay: The Premise.
My definition: The thing that makes you want to write something.
I'm not trying to be clever or anything, but the premise really is as simple as that. It's also deliberately vague because the premise can really be anything. It can be an idea; an image; a comment. It can be world-shattering or mundane. But whatever it is, it makes you want to explore it. It makes you ask "What if?.." and makes you want to answer it.
And that is the key.
Let's say you were walking down the street and there was a little old lady on the opposite side. There she is, pushing her little wheelie-shopping-basket thing that old ladies seem to just have when, from out of nowhere, a huge out-of-control Great Dane comes bolting towards her. It's like a car crash; you just can't look away. As the dog gets closer and closer you just know this moment is going to be etched in your mind forever. And now it's almost right on top of her and you feel helpless because you're so far away. And then, as the irresistible force meets the immovable object...
... the little old lady neatly sidesteps the crazed canine and continues on her way.
From this, you could find the premise for any number of stories. What if the old lady used to be an Olympic standard gymnast? Perhaps she contracted a disease that made her age super-fast? Or what if she used to be a highly sought-after cat burglar? What if she's still a highly sought-after cat burglar? What if the dog escaped from a lab? Or belonged to the richest man in New York and was dog-napped? Or was the ring-leader in a bid to liberate all the dogs in the city from their owners? What about that helplessness you felt watching it all unfold? What if you saw something far more sinister? What if the people involved saw you watching? What if you saw something that you could never purge from your mind?
I think you get the point. That moment could be the beginning, middle or end of any number of stories. Judging by my examples most would be terrible, but it illustrates the fact that the premise is the thing that sets in motion the discovery and exploration of a story. At the time you probably won't know what the story is, or where it goes, but that's the way it's supposed to be. Stories do not appear in the conscious mind fully formed. We all have to work for that.
More often than not, a premise finds you. It's one of those 'quick-I-need-a-piece-of-paper-right-now-or-I'm-gonna-lose-this' moments where a synapse fires in your brain in a way that's totally unique to you. It's the payoff for all those hours spent reading scripts, seeing movies, reading books, communicating with others and dreaming dreams. It's the little mental shove that sets you on your way. Be open to them, welcome them, and act on them. Never let them pass unrecorded.
As Kevin Costner was once advised: "If you build it (a fertile imagination), they will come."
Next time we cover something similar, but different; The Concept.