Moving Your Story From Premise To Plot

Screenwriter Bill Marsilii believes the PREMISE, or CONCEPT, is critical. It needs to be large enough to be movie-worthy as opposed to being a TV episode. Most importantly, it must evoke an emotional response.


  • What makes you switch on your computer every day? What rocks your world?
  • List everything you love in life. Not just films, but the smell of baking bread, acorns or stilettos.
  • What are your greatest fears? Attack, death, abandonment, drowning, betrayal, rape, being ignored, being misunderstood, being eaten. Note that love and fear are the most potent and fundamental of human emotions. All others are derived from them.
  • What are your greatest desires? Wealth, respect, sex, having superpowers, redemption, forgiveness, or being God for a day.
  • Examine common anxieties, folklore, legends, mythology and religion.
  • What if (something extraordinary could happen) such as losing your identity?
  • Mine history books, short stories and classics, many of which are in the public intellectual domain.


  • You still feel the same way the following week.
  • If it sparks further ideas.
  • It sparks great “one liners”.
  • Are you dying to write it? Schedule dream and lead in time before you start to make you more desperate to write it.
  • If your creative well is dry, hold out for a creative soul mate that will command you to your keyboard.


  • Is there a central, unifying theme?
  • Challenge your audiences. Take them to extremes.
  • Does the premise suggest a compelling relationship between the characters?
  • Is it too nice and polite?
  • Are the obstacles big enough to warrant a movie? Obstacles define the drama. Are the obstacles surmountable? Do they require special skills to overcome?
  • Can the fear and danger of failing be demonstrated on screen?
  • Is the threat tangible? Avoid temporal, abstract threats.
  • Is there an intimate story within the grand story? Personal stories can often elicit larger emotional responses than generic blockbusters.
  • Does the premise allow you to do something never seen before? Exercise due diligence with your research. Many ideas simply don’t work on the screen.
  • Are the lead roles fit for A-list actors?


  • Use index cards and jot down all relevant ideas in any order. When you have a critical mass you are ready to write an outline. Don’t be a slave to it. It is a road map from which you can detour at any time.
  • Visualize your movie.
  • Protect key scenes by surrounding them with genre moments.
  • Why are the characters in each scene and why now? If the reasons aren’t strong enough, either merge the scene elsewhere or delete it.
  • Explore the central idea as fully as possible, so similar films appear as cheap imitations.
  • Know the point of each scene. Enter late and leave early.

Although no-one can guarantee these tips will ensure commercial success, they will ensure your writing passion remains alive.


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