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The premise of a better story

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At the advice of scriptwriting guru Hugh Burton I’ve been reading The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller by John Truby. I’m following the steps and they are super helpful so far in getting me thinking about who these characters are, and what story I’m trying to tell.  One of the first ‘steps’ involves coming up with the premise– the entire story condensed into a single sentence. Developing a central premise is important in figuring out what the essence of the story is. Below are a bunch of attempts I’ve made so far. None of them are on the money (yet) but this exercise has already helped me to think about the story more clearly.

  • after a failed relationship, a man pursues university, women and substances in order to feel whole
  • a man attempts to feel whole after a failed relationship comes to realise that healing happens from within
  • a man’s addictions compete with his desire for discipline
  • a man overcomes a cycle of meaningless sex and fleeting desires by reconnecting with his childhood
  • after a failed relationship a man embarks on a path to fulfil his childhood dreams
  • a man is torn between habits of addiction and a desire for discipline
  • a man attempts to exercise discipline in order to find fulfilment and become a man

In developing the premise I have been thinking about a number of points, as raised in Truby’s book.

1- Identifying story challenges and problems. How to make the lead character relatable, given that he is a womanising, self-loathing emotional cripple? How do I give any of his relationships meaning? How do I communicate his pursuits and activities in a way that has a feeling of depth for the reader?

2- Find the designing principle/internal logic. The designing principle “describes some deeper process or form in which the story will play out in a unique way” (p.37) which may be represented with symbols or metaphors. In this world I am creating, what is the internal logic? Surely it must be linked to my own belief system of cause & effect/person over environment. In this respect I’m very much a three-act restorative narrative kinda guy.

3- Character change. Figuring out a change starting with, as described in the book, basic action (A) and then going to the opposites of the basic action to determine his weaknesses (W) at the beginning and his change (C) at the end (p.37). Change happens through struggle. In this case the protagonist is a womaniser and substance abuser (A) because he is seeking to feel fulfilled and is unable to say no (W), and turns into a rational, disciplined, driven adult (C). So all of the struggles he is presented with need to work to collectively alert him to his weakness and enable him to effect internal change.

4- Moral choice. A choice between adoration and honesty may make a “difficult but plausible” (p.37) moral choice. This moral choice will either show the character change or ensure it happens.

At the end of it all I need to get to the bottom of who is the hero fighting, and what is he fighting about? Since this is all autobiographical it involves a fair amount of introspection, as well as abstraction of my sense of self- at least enough to shoe-horn it into a well-rounded and convincingly written character.