All good narratives have a message, point of view and themes they explore through the characters and their interactions. A narrative that doesn’t do any of this will be pointless or shallow… a bad story.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this lately with the script I’m writing. In ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing’, Lajos Egri makes a convincing case for the use of a clear cut premise (message) in the narrative. He states that “An unclear premise is as bad as no premise at all.”, and he also goes on to say that you can only have one premise to have a successful play/narrative. While I agree that a good narrative needs to do something on that level, I’m not sure how much I agree completely with these last two points Egri makes.
If we take Oedipus Rex by Sophocles for example, we can say that the premise is ‘man cannot escape his fate’, but I can’t help but feel that it operates on many more levels than that. It explores ideas of choice, free will and inevitability. I guess what Egri says about premise is viable IF you do a whole bunch of other things as well.
With this in mind as I’m writing, I keep drifting to allegory to depict the premise of my story. Allegory is something that is really hard to do well, so I’m not sure how far I’ll go down that path. It’s really easy to be ham-fisted and lack subtlety when trying to get across the premise. I see it time and time again in narratives, the story has a message and something to say but it’s overdone, preachy and sanctimonious. The audience can see it too and they are not convinced. And although I think having an unsubtle premise is better then none at all, both options have to be avoided for a good successful narrative.
A writer such as George Orwell does allegory really really well especially with books such as 1984 and Animal Farm. Another person who does it well is Hayao Miyazaki especially with films such as Princess Mononoke and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. While you could boil down what these stories do to a simple overall premise, is doing so useful for formulating your own story? Maybe but it seems to come with it’s own dangers. One example of this is We Are The Strange by M Dot Strange. Although I really like the animated feature. I’ve noticed that one thing that it doesn’t do well is a subtle premise. It has a strong and admirable message but it’s executed excessively. This makes the message less effective and causes the whole film to lose cohesion.
So that’s my goal right now, to write a great narrative with a strong premise, yet do it with subtlety and have it woven into the rest of the structure well. I’m studying films and stories I think do this well and trying to work out the mechanisms they use. When I figure out how to utilise a good premise and message subtly within the story I’ll let you know ><