Sunday, December 19, 2004

A Premise is NOT a CONCEPT! ~ A small Rant

The Premise is NOT a story’s Concept. (sigh)
WARNING: A small Rant ahead.

People get the definitions of Concept and Premise mixed up all the time. I think it has to do with the fact that Premise and Concept are not words that we hear (or see) until we become writers. Movie people deal with the words: Premise and Concept, all the time, but their egos are on the line so they’re painstakingly careful about not mixing the two words up.

A Concept is what the Story is ABOUT.
Movie folks are always nattering on about: High Concept. A story with a high concept means that the story’s plot can be said in one sentence using comparisons to known stories.
Most movies are High Concept. 
  • Take the movie SPEED: Die Hard on a bus.” 
  • How about UNDERWORLD? “Romeo’s a werewolf, Juliet’s a Vampire.” 
  • Let’s try INDEPENDENCE DAY: “D-day with Aliens.”
Not particularly original, I know, but...  
Movies are designed to catch the largest common denominator of bodies for their audience
As a rule, the biggest hunk of the movie-watching population is made up of TV Watchers, not Book Readers. TV Watchers are used to Simple Uncomplicated Stories. You hand them a complicated plot and they get really lost, really fast. This audience DOES NOT WANT TO THINK, they want to watch all the pretty pictures and feel good about themselves--and that’s it.

Unfortunately, High Concept DOESN’T work all that well on Book Readers. 
Book Readers are used to complicated plot-lines, so they DON'T like to have everything spelled out and handed to them. Book Readers find simplistic plots BORING. (We LIKE thinking.) They want to live the adventure and figure things out for themselves.

This is why Mysteries are so Popular among readers, but don't do nearly as well in the movies. However, Suspense is a High-Action Mystery, so they do just fine in the movies. The light mystery keeps the thinkers interested, and the Action satisfies all the TV-Watchers that just want to see things blown up.

Don’t believe me about the TV-Watching audience wanting the simplistic?

Talk to a pack of your friends about what they thought of The MATRIX
The MATRIX was a gamble. It had some pretty damned deep messages in it – but then it had cool fight scenes too. Those of your friends that thought it was the coolest thing they’d ever seen – GOT the message. Those that shrug and mention the cool graphics DIDN’T get the deeper messages, and probably don’t read for pleasure!

The deeper message in The Matrix is what made it so satisfying for those of us that THINK. 
That deeper message was the PREMISE; what The Matrix was trying to say
 -- “Question REALITY”.

The CONCEPT of The Matrix was how they planned to Explain that Message
 -- "What if we were all living in computer generated reality?"

The Premise is what the story 
is Trying to SAY.
The Concept is what the story is ABOUT.
Get it?
Understanding Theme and Premise: by Susan J. Letham

Morgan Hawke


1 comment:

  1. I love your rants, you are far more interesting than any dictionary, i once told someone the key to art appreciation is the courage to be pretentious, and he responded by saying and also the courage not to be pretentious. You are that advice in action. I have bookmarked will return to feed, life and power to ya.