The development of a premise is rather like the hypothetical stage of a theory, whereby story creators have a few interesting ideas which apparently have some sort of connections with one another, however tenuous, and the creators must find those connections in order to organise material for their thought experiment.
The creators may start with a character and an initiating situation, such as: A Greek captain is lost at sea. This will then suggest questions such as, how did she get lost, how does she get herself un-lost and what are the consequences of her finding herself?
The creators may start with a character and a climax, such as: A Greek captain comes home only to find her daughter and her whole household are threatened by suitors whom she must defeat. This will suggest questions such as, how did this state of affairs come about and how will she defeat the suitors?
Sketchier beginning premises might be an historical event, such as the downfall of Ithaka, which will draw out the questions of who was involved in this downfall, how did it come about, and what meaning can we derive from this event; or a series of characters such as a captain, her daughter and a cyclops, which will draw out the questions of who are these characters, how are they inter-related or what events may bring them together?
Now the story creators may have already had a theme such as, How women in power choose to face adversity, which could be the motivation for choosing a female sea captain, since then the theme can be explored by looking at the parallels between how she faces adversity when it comes from nature compared to when it comes from other people.
If the story creators came up with the same theme after already having developed the sea captain, her daughter and the cyclops, the theme could then be explored by presenting how women have traditionally handled adversity through the sea captain, how men have traditionally handled adversity through the cyclops, and how the best of both could be understood and drawn from to form a new approach through the daughter (a nice set up for creating a multi-linear story).
Given the sort of technical planning that must go into developing stories for the computer right from the start,the premise is a useful opening point for discovering not only plot connections, but the shape of those connections, and thereby the story shapes which may best suit the story.
Copyright 1999 Katherine Phelps