Premise Test – Notes on Type

You’ll often hear me talk about the premise of a movie. When I do, I’m usually talking about the premise test:

An <ADJECTIVE> <PROTAGONIST TYPE> must <GOAL> or else <STAKES>. They do this by <DOING> and learns <THEME>.

A type boils a character down into one word, an oversimplified conceptual handle so we get a grasp on who they are and or what they do.

A TYPE COULD BE A PROFESSION: Look at Wikipedia bios. They always begin like this:  Hulk Hogan, is an American professional wrestler, actor, television personality, entrepreneur, and musician. Tenzin Gyatso is the current Dalai Lama. Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th and current President of the United States, A person may wear many hats in their life, but they’ll always have one first. Madonna is a pop singer. Caruso is an opera singer. Magic Johnson might be a businessman and broadcaster, but he’ll always be a retired basketball player first.

A TYPE COULD BE A REFERENCE: Some people are too specific or to be typed easily.They become types of their own. A Marilyn Manson-type. A Tony Stark-Type. A Mike Tyson-type.

A TYPE COULD BE AN LITERARY ARCHETYPE: A hooker with a heart of gold. A young man on the make. A has-been starlet.

THE TYPE SHOULD GIVE A ROLE OF A CHARACTER’S ROLE IN THE STORY: Take MAJOR DAD. He’s a dad who’s in the military, but the dad part comes first. If you were adapting this, you could switch his job, but you’d be hard pressed to make him a bachelor. It’s the same in a story: P.L. Travers might have been a bisexual free spirit, but SAVING MR. BANKS needed her to be a joyless spinster, so that’s the type she (unfairly) occupied in this story.

Keep types short, 1-3 words. What you’re looking for is accuracy. You should be able to say my story is about a <TYPE> and have a perfect stranger roughly understand the type of person you’re creating.

Your type says a lot about the character, the adjective says more and differentiates him.

People often struggle to be original and eschew types, but it’s really hard to escape. Don’t worry about creating a new type, most of the time it’ll be too weird or novel to ring true. Rather work on finding a unique spin on a type that makes an old idea feel fresh and new.

Published by Matt Lazarus

WGA screenwriter offering in-depth writing instruction, notes, critique, and assistance.

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