By the way, what exactly is a Premise?

This question may seem naive to you because premise is a concept widely used by everyone. But for me, it’s one of those words that I like to use, but which I don’t really understand and therefore am unable to give a clear definition of.

The latest Subtext tool “the premise builder” is really amazing and has given me a lot of insight into its internal mechanics in relation to all the Dramatica concepts. Goal Vs Consequence, Problem Vs Solution and Symptom Vs Response. Despite this, there is something that remains a bit vague in my mind and that is, does the premise have to say it all ? I mean how can you combine the four Throughlines into one single sentence ? And inversely is there only one sentence that can accurately tell your story ?

When I’m looking for the one that fits my story, I have the impression that I can’t help but look at one of the character (MC or IC) or at the SR (and not really the OS). It’s as if I actually would need several premises to tell everything I have in mind.

Would it be conceivable to work on the story by creating 4 premises corresponding to the 4 Throughlines ? (as I am writting it, it doesn’t sound right…)

For the moment, I can’t decide on 2 premises that tell two aspects of my story and that ARE my story. One seems to focus on the motivations of the IC (and its consequences) while the other tells the story of the difficulties it brings to the MC (and the solution to escape it).

Does that mean I should develop two separate stories? Jim Hull tells me that Iron Man works like that and I think The English Patient does too. But I feel like I’m missing the real point of the premise and may just get lost going down that path.

FWIW (and I understand why he changed it) I preferred Jim’s old terminology which called it “narrative argument” rather than premise.

Outside of Dramatica/Subtext, “Premise” means different things to different writers. What Jim is doing is expanding on Lagos Egri’s definition. For Egri the premise is something like “Greed leads to self-destruction” which the story then argues.

However, I think most writing advice uses “premise” as a simple one-line description of the content of the story, involving (for example) a protagonist, goal and situation: “A young girl is swept away to a magical land by a tornado and must embark on a quest to see the wizard who can help her return home.”

I think the distinction is important because the latter definition is trying to encapsulate the contents of a story into a single sentence, where as the “narrative argument premise” is positing something that the the storymind argues through the narrative.

So in other words, as I understand it, the question isn’t whether the premise says it all – it’s whether all parts of the story contribute to arguing the premise. If you have something separate that you want to argue, then you might need a separate premise. But it’s not like the Subtext premise is going to give you the ins and outs of the entire story – that’s what the storyform does. (At least as I understand it :slight_smile: )

EDIT: Just for reference, the current Subtext premise for The Wizard of Oz is

You can fall in love with a particular group when you abandon disbelieving


I see,
Now when searching for the right “narrative argument”, especially when choosing the illustrations elements, I have the feeling that I am actually trying to summarise the plot.
And eventhough it’s actually being quiet illuminating to see what would be an ultra-condensed summarise of the story, the plot is just one illustration, one among others, of the deep meaning I have in mind.
And there again I find myself thinking, “Hmm, yes that’s my story all right, but it’s only the superficial layer of it, only what is happening and not what I want the reader/audience to deeply understand.”

And also, it’s sounds very judgemental and pointing in one direction only (that’s what I meant, when I said in my first post that it seems we look at only one character) It is as if I was saying : “See, if you do like this person, you will end up like that, and don’t come crying, because I told you so !”

Maybe that’s precisely the idea. But then, why pointing this one (wether it’s the MC or the IC) and not the other, or the relationship or the objective characters ?

Or is it that the perfect premise would apply to all of them ?

Yeah, exactly. On top of being the narrative argument – the thing that your story is most arguing or showing – it’s also a kind of essence that cuts across every part of your story. You can take the premise and see how it applies over here and over there in different ways.

That’s definitely the idea – although it might be easiest to see how it applies to the MC, especially with the given illustration you choose.

One BIG CAVEAT about the whole premise thing. (This may or may not apply to you, depending on the type of writer you are.) I think Subtext’s premise is absolutely amazing, narrative gold, it helps you to really take your understanding of your own story (and other stories) to the next level. But I would never try to use it or make sense of it before starting to write the story! That seems completely backwards to me.

For me the whole point/goal of writing is to just tell a good story, to bring the cool ideas I have to life. I don’t care what the actual premise turns out to be, as long as it has one. The point is to discover that.

The Premise Builder is still an awesome tool to help you get to your storyform, which can help you start writing. But I would suggest not to over-analyze how appropriate the premise fits all your story/characters at the beginning. Instead, if it feels in the right direction, like it might work well but you’re not quite sure how – that’s okay, just go with it. The true sense of that premise having all this perfect meaning probably won’t come until you’re a quarter to halfway into writing your story at least. (Unless you write a very detailed outline, which may act like writing the actual story in that case.)

It’s also okay if you have to adjust your storyform (i.e. find a slightly different premise) once you’re partway into writing the story. The Premise Builder should make that simple too.


I think the complexity you’re seeking actually comes from exploring the argument of your premise from the various different perspectives of the storyform. So the Subtext premise of season one of the tv series Westworld is:

“While severe, when you get out of your way and abandon fulfilling the desires of others you can imagine your own story.”

As written, the premise seems to apply most directly to the main character, Dolores.

But scratch the surface, and you see the the premise is built from Conceptualizing and Desire – themes that are explored over and over again from different angles, through all of the OS characters, and through the relationships.


That makes a lot of sense to me, now.
So if I have the feeling that the premise is only pointing at one direction, I need to look how the other throughlines/characters may explore it as well. And if it resists and seems wrong to the rest of the story, then maybe it’s not the right one.


Thought about this over the weekend, and wanted to see what everyone’s feedback was…

Personally, I love the idea of calling what is found in Subtext the “Premise” - mainly, because it sounds cool (Premise Builder!), but also, because it ties into my original introduction to narrative theory - Lajos Egris the art of dramatic writing! - where he discusses the Premise at length…


I recognize and appreciate that there could be something better and clearer because yes, if you ask a normie what is the premise of a story, they’ll tell you, “Oh, it’s about a girl in her 30s who seeks revenge for what happened to her in college” or “It’s about a daughter and her father coming to terms with his failing memory.” What you DON"T think is what you would find in Subtext (or Dramatica, for that reason).

SO…if there are good ideas for a replacement name for this concept I’d love to hear it.

Narrative Argument is great, but it’s kind of cold. Other ideas I ran through:

  • Core Narrative
  • Narrative Meaning
  • Essence
  • Substance Builder
  • Meaning
  • Story Intention
  • Meaning Machine
  • Implication
  • Undertone

Basically, just synonyms for meaning :blush:

Message is probably the clearest, but I know there are many who would buck the idea of a story having a “message.”

thanks in advance for any thoughts pro or con.


This is so interesting! I think most professional writers would agree that a story must have a message. (Though, they might say a message is “Capitalism is bad” —think, Parasite— which isn’t at all what you’re talking about.)

I dislike Undertone and Implication since these seem soft, and personally, I like Premise, but probably since I was also a fan of Egri.

I remember other non-Dramatica theories using “Story Core” but I’m not sure if it’s ™ or anything.

I didn’t mean to open a can of worms. I actually think Premise is fine and it does mean something to anyone who’s familiar with Egri.

I’m all for leaving it as it would require re-writing ALOT, but I’m always up to make things clearer if needed (so far that’s +2 for Premise)

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Maybe it’s lingo, but the way premise was described earlier (“It’s about a 30-year-old…”) is what I would call a “logline”.


I like Premise with a capital P. The capitalization shows that you can’t assume just any definition or arbitrary use of the word (similar to Goal or Protagonist).

And yeah, Premise Builder just sounds way cool.


Hi everyone.

Great discussion so far.

Just a name for the concept: I like
Narrative Construct.

Premise for this concept doesn’t seem to work because the concept is:

  1. Already established. Seeking to shoehorn a new/ more accuratemeaning to what’s widely accepted/understood to be something else is rather esoteric. It won’t stand out per se. It’s like a diamond in a sea of diamonds.

  2. The definition simply isn’t sufficient enough to trap the essence of all the éléments for most authors in this case: Premise(noun) = logic. Premise(verb) = to base an argument.

Construct(noun) = an idea or theory containing various conceptual elements.
Construct(verb) = build or erect something.

In this case we’re building a logical argument from various elements(seeds).

So Construct cuts it, as a noun and as a verb.

So, Narrative Construct.

That’s what I suggest.

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Hi there,
I couldn’t possibly think that my innocent (and somehow ironical) question would turn into a semantic debate with so much at stake !!!
Please remember that I am a very new Dramaticalist who is still busy sorting out some basic concepts.

I think the Premise (with a capital P) is really fine and is actually in line with what I’read here and there in different other theories.
There is already so many concepts specific to Dramatica that it actually feels good to sometime find one that connects with the rest of the world ! And especially at this very deep level of the story.

The distinction with the Logline (in which elements of character and plot appears) is easy to grasp once established and shouldn’t be a reason to add another confusion ( a newcomer to Subtext may just ask : what is the difference between the Narrative Construct (or Core or whatever) and the premise I’am used to ?).

I think my confusion partly comes from the fact that the illustration proposed by the builder are sometime very close to plot elements : “avoiding getting pregnant” for example, compared to “Greed” is much more precise in terms of which character is involved and what is happening.
But that is precisely the richess of the tool and changing the name of it wouldn’t help anyway.

May be the solution would be to give a short and clear definition of it at the top of the builder.


I like it – but not enough to make Jim rewrite everything :slight_smile:

Jim’s old intro class was called “from logline to synopsis” – it occurs to me that for a lot of people, it might make sense to start with that before trying to zero in on the Premise/Narrative Argument.

And/or have a space for a logline as well, as long as it doesn’t box anyone in. Right now there is a box for the synopsis.

Building off of the other thread about “narrative first”, a possible workflow for developing a story (not for everyone) could be: Synopsis -> Logline -> Premise


Production then Reduction. Found under Present, Conscious, Conceiving and Learning. Maybe more than an interesting coincidence. :wink:

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While the question of what exactly a premise is has been discussed, I didn’t see a straight, short answer. The premise is the argument that guides the story. As such, everything in the story should be geared toward proving the premise.

These questions treat the premise as something that comes from the story. Dramatica treats the story as something that comes from the premise.

Your premise SHOULD say it all in that the premise is the argument you are making. It shouldn’t be seen as an encapsulation of the four throughlines but rather as the guiding principle for the four throughlines. Rather than writing the premise to summarize the throughlines, the throughlines should be written to expound upon the premise.

I can say something like “stop letting others walk all over you and you can live a happy life”. That is my entire argument. It doesn’t come close to telling you everything that will happen in the story. But everything in the story should work toward proving that argument and the story itself should work toward proving that argument from every perspective.

One way your story might do that is by showing a man who lets others walk all over him and has an unhappy life, but later stops letting others walk all over him and has a happy life. Maybe this looks like a man who goes into a parole hearing and says exactly what he thinks the board wants to hear only to be denied parole. But later he goes in and says he doesn’t give a damn what the board thinks and they grant him parole.

Another way your story might do that is by showing a man who refuses to let others walk all over him and who is happy. Maybe this looks like a guy who always takes control of the situation when others try to walk all over him. Maybe he’s an innocent man thrown in jail, but is able to convince a guard to give him and his buddies some beer so they feel like free men while tarring the prison roof. Maybe he plays a record over the loudspeaker so all the inmates can feel free and when they throw him in the hole for a week, he comes out saying it’s the easiest time he’s ever done because he still holds on to hope.

You don’t come up with “stop letting others walk all over you and you can have a happy life” in order to tell yourself everything that happens in Shawshank Redemption. You come up with Shawshank Redemption as a way to fully and completely explain what “stop letting others walk all over you and you can have a happy life” means, as a way to explain how to apply the argument.