Premise test – notes on stakes.

"The stakes are not ours. They are the characters."*   Stakes are both easy and hard. It’s a category that's easy to fill in with something, hard to fill in well. Stakes are consequences. They are what will happen if the hero fails to meet his goal. If our heroes are blue collar heroes who... Continue Reading →

How to create a goal that will carry your reader through your story.

1. ROOTING INTEREST IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PLOT Midway through DUNKIRK, I turned to my friend and said, “Wait, is that the plane from earlier? Are sea and air narratives about to intersect?” My friend said, “I have no fucking idea. Shut up, I’m watching this.” This illustrates a truth about story telling. Everything, plot,... Continue Reading →

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... Continue Reading →

Genre 101

Update 10/23/14: This is an earlier version of this post, which I like a little better. Video game genres: First Person Shooter, Real Time Strategy, Rail Shooter Movie genres: Comedy, Drama, Horror, Fantasy, War Genres in video games are named for how we influence the medium. Genres in movies are named for how the medium... Continue Reading →

Premise Test Examples

Reader question: You talk about your premise test a lot. How would you apply this to a more character driven piece like Five Easy Pieces or Dog Day Afternoon? Or even Reservoir Dogs. How about the Shining or Taxi Driver. What theme do the protagonists of those stories learn? My premise test:  An <ADJECTIVE> <PROTAGONIST TYPE>... Continue Reading →

The Premise Test

The premise test is simple, useful, and much harder to fill out than you'd think. Its brevity glosses over a lot of complexity and theory. In practice, it's a powerful and merciless tool that exposes flawed or incomplete thinking. Used correctly, it will save you from false starts. The premise test will tell you if... Continue Reading →

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