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Space for Rent: Premises and Promises

Tweet of the Day: Strings of Retaliation – 2b – Closure


prem·ise  (prms)

n. also prem·iss (prms)

1. A proposition upon which an argument is based or from which a conclusion is drawn.
2. Logic

a. One of the propositions in a deductive argument.
b. Either the major or the minor proposition of a syllogism, from which the conclusion is drawn.
3. premises Law The preliminary or explanatory statements or facts of a document, as in a deed.
4. premises

a. Land and the buildings on it.
b. A building or part of a building.
v. prem·ised, prem·is·ing, prem·is·es

1. To state in advance as an introduction or explanation.
2. To state or assume as a proposition in an argument.


To make a premise.
Every story is based on a series of premises and each premise sets up a series of promises which are either fulfilled or ignored by the story. Premises, whatever they may be in a story set up three things crucial to the success of a story:
  1. Suspension of Disbelief: The reader accepts or discards the premises stipulated by genre/work be it intergalactic travel, the police are useless or that a man can leap the tallest building with a single bound.
  2. Internal Logic/Consistency: Or Magic A is Magic A unless the rules say otherwise.
  3. Promises: Each premise sets a series of promises to the audience, one of them being bullet point number 2. Fulfill them and you succeed, break them and you fail.

I, for one, don’t buy into a lot of the premises in horror, thus I don’t enjoy the genre.  My dad can’t stand anything that is either related to superheroes or speculative fiction. Therefore, no suspension of disbelief, willing or otherwise, and therefore no engagement with the work. Many of the premises cover world building, such as mode of travel/communication, economics, politics and the like.  If it takes shiny magic rocks to power a transporter once, it should take the same rocks to do it every time. But the really tricky part is the one about promises.

What are these promises I keep harping about? You already seen one of them, that the story will be internally consistent. Doesn’t seem like much of a promise, but it is implied by the premise. Just like the promise of a happy ending in a romance. The risk for the creator is two fold, that he does not fulfill the implicit/explicit promises made to the audience or that doing so creates a predictable story.

This is a hard question to answer. After all, you don’t want to show all your cards in the first hand but you also want to nail the landing. So in a world full of mixed metaphors the only advice I can give is to stick with internal logic, built upon it instead of disregarding it in the pursuit of cheap surprises. Use what you got, and whenever possible reward your audience for being clever enough to figure out what is going on.  You can alter premises by the proper use of foreshadowing, even at the risk of losing your audience. Done well, it can reinforce their willing suspension of disbelief. Done poorly and it ejects the audience from the work with nary a viable excuse.


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