An invaluable resource often cited among screenwriters is The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri. Intended as a guide for playwriting, its principles have found their way into screenwriting. Egri stresses that the writer must know the premise of the story, that is, the thematic truth. For example, if the lead character is driven by love, then the desire must be so powerful that the character will risk all to obtain it, thus the premise is, “True love will face death.” A carefully thought-out premise is like a small synopsis of your story. The premise is the underlying force that motivates the main character throughout the story and it must contain three critical elements: character, conflict, and conclusion.
A character must reveal three dimensions: physiology (physical state and condition), sociology (environment and upbringing), and psychology (needs, drives, attitudes). This creates the character’s backstory. Conflict is determined by the premise. Conflict encompasses a rising state represented in the sequence of events that ultimately leads to the final sacrifice (as in true love will face death). In the conclusion, the character has moved from one pole to another, what Egri describes as the Unity of Opposites, a condition where compromise is not possible given the motivating premise. Ultimately the premise is proven, true love will challenge death.
Egri goes further and instructs us that a good premise represents the author. The story must have the writer’s conviction. Isn’t that why we write? We feel passionately about a story. Make that conviction come through in all stages of your screenplay. And remember, as Egri reminds us, we should write about people that are at a critical point in their lives. The story we tell about them can then serve as an inspiration to others.
The Art of Dramatic Writing is a useful guide and should be part of your writer’s library. Consider picking up a copy here.
Until next time, Write-Rewrite
– T Severe