Premise: How the masters do it

So, we’re filling out the Master Premise Tool we developed on Monday:

[Vice] leads to [defeat] but [Virtue] leads to [success]

Again, I’ll add more examples as I read more books with an eye for theme, but this will get us started… 1. James Patterson’s Hope to Die As we looked at last week, the theme of Hope to Die is hope.  And in the story he’s trying to recover his kidnapped family.  Cross maintains hope and eventually recovers his family.  He embodies the virtue.  Interestingly, and as we’ll get into more next week when we look at variations on theme, there’s a supporting character who clearly embodies the vice:  The antagonist’s girlfriend, who’s helping with the kidnapping, loses hope… and loses her family.  So the premise of Hope to Die could be (crudely) stated as:

Hope leads to Family; Hopelessness leads to Loss of Family.

2. Andy Weir’s The Martian Again, as we looked at last week, I couldn’t decide if the theme of The Martian was survival or risk.  And that’s probably, because the thematic premise encompasses both.  The main character is stranded on Mars.  He wants to survive.  It’s going to be risky.  Every time he takes an action toward getting off Mars, he risks death in that moment.  Additionally, getting off Mars is going to put the lives of five other people at risk, but if they don’t take the risk, then a piece of them will die emotionally, because they left their comrade behind.  So…

Taking risks leads to Survival; Avoiding risk leads to Death.

3. The Wizard of Oz (the movie) Brian McDonald says the premise of The Wizard of Oz is “you may already have what you’re looking for.” He comes to this conclusion because Dorothy thinks she wants to run away from home only to realize, right before she’s whisked away to Oz, that home is where she needs to be.  And her three companions provide variations of this same theme (next week’s tool): the scarecrow wants a brain, but has all the ideas; the tin man wants a heart, but shows all the emotion; and the lion wants courage, but leads all the charges.  I think Mr. McDonald is right about the premise, and this irked me, because it doesn’t fit into our “most comprehensive premise statement” form.  But I’ve been thinking about it for a while now, and maybe it actually does. How about:

Valuing what you have leads to having what you value; Devaluing what you have leads to lacking what you value.

What do you think?  I think it captures it, and I like how the vice half of it shows how Dorothy got into her predicament in the first place, which the McDonald version of premise does not show.

Well that’s it for me.  What about you?  What premises do you see in the stories you’re reading and watching?


We’ll look at the premises in our own work.

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