To travel to any place, for example, from UPLB to Enchanted Kingdom, one may take the jeepney or drive his private vehicle. Of course, this trip must have been planned and prepared for beforehand. Either through commute or carpool, land transportation generally use automobiles powered by fuel that pass through roads that lead to a specific destination. A driver or a commuter must know where he must go and how to get there, maybe through road signs or the use of a map to be even more precise. Most of the time, not being able to meet the two requisites will lead him astray.
Writing a play is the same with transportation. The driver or the commuter is the playwright. He drives or rides a vehicle as the writer steers or traverses along his story. The vehicle runs on fuel, which might be the equated to the author’s creativity and motivation to write that powers the story. Starting a play goes through a lot of planning and conceptualizing because if the writer does not know where his story is going, he is just as good as lost in the road. And this is where the map of the play—the premise—becomes the keystone concept of playwriting.
According to Lajos Egri, the author of The Art of Dramatic Writing, every play must have a premise. He defined the premise using the Webster’s International Dictionary, stating that it is “a proposition…leading to a conclusion”. He reiterated that the premise will “show the road” where the story will run to reach its end. He showed a long list of timeless plays and their corresponding premise. In all the premises given, there are three things that are commonly present. The first one is an idea, a unique aspect of a character or the situation that defines him. The second one is a verb phrase, one that suggests the third aspect which is divergent yet still reasonably connected to the first idea. He revealed these three to be the very foundation of the play: the character, the conflict, and the conclusion.
Egri was able to elaborate the significance of the premise through a whole lot of examples. He used classic plays that might have already been seen or read by many, so that they could easily grasp how he determined the premises of each. But the downside of his examples is that first, most of them are tragedies and second, they are long and rambling plays. It is quite perplexing to devise a premise for a children’s play if the guides are of tragic endings with remarkably adult themes. Even so, the essay did not lack explanation of the elements that any premise must contain: character, conflict, conclusion, and of course, the conviction of the author for such proposition.
The worst scenario a writer will encounter in playwriting is that if his story seems to go for hours, days, and even years and is still unable to come up with a viable conclusion, instead, it just keeps on going back to where it started, or reach a road leading to a cliff. This might be because the writer lacks a working, clear-cut premise that will guide him in reaching the conclusion. As the map of the play, the premise provides a guide on how the play will be going. Having a good premise avoids trial-and-error in the process of playwriting. The technicalities of a good premise are given much emphasis that I think one could not start a play without its premise. It is a good thing that the essay has also explained well how to find the premise from the synopsis of the play. Egri also laid out some examples of badly-worded or disorientated premises and their corresponding effect to the outcome of the play as a whole.
The premise will always guide the playwright on the general emotion that the play will contain. According to The Science of Playwrighting by Moses L. Malevinsky, emotions are the driving force of the play, and are also the directors of the premise. But of course, the emotions must be cohesive so they will not lead the story astray. Furthermore, it lets the dialogues in the play flow smoothly and naturally because the emotions are genuine and has reasonable basis. Oftentimes, one sentence is not enough to tell a story. This is where the challenge of formulating a good, active premise arises. First, if writing a play starts with only a three-part sentence, then there will be endless possibilities of stories that the author could imagine, and this may lead to confusion. On the other hand, if the playwright starts with a story, he may have a hard time extracting the premise because in the first place, it might have just come out spontaneously and though it may have a plot; it might be hard to really dig out the set-up of a clear-cut premise.
Truly, playwriting is not an easy undertaking. It is a serious process that will always be the reflection of the author’s skill and creativity. The spotlight is always trained on the premise because it is generally the message the play wants to impart to the audience. If the premise is not clearly stated, then the play will defeat its purpose of communicating through the theater stage. A driver with no clear grasp of the direction he goes may see himself running endlessly until he reaches a dead-end or worse, dries out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. For a playwright to exercise his full-on creativity without sacrificing purpose or vice-versa, he must always bring with him the premise of his play, rather than grope blindly in the maze that is playwriting.
Courtney from Study Moose
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