What is the difference?

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  • What is the difference?

    What is the difference, please, among "premise," "theme," "story concept," and might as well throw in "logline?"

    All those John August/John Truby types have vastly different definitions for them.

    One guy says a premise is "more than a quick synopsis." What does that even mean?

    Especially when another guy says a premise is "one sentence only" and another says it's "what's in your heart" before you even come up with a story idea.

    Is it just semantics, referring to the same general ideas? Am I misunderstanding something fundamental? Or are they all messing it up for everyone?

    Many thanks.

    Barb
    Hobby Writer

  • #2
    Re: What is the difference?

    i'll use the movie JAWS.

    Logline -- 1 word sentence that tell us what the film or TV or book is about. Usually to get people to read, buy or see it. Sell the work.

    When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it's up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.

    Theme -- I always took it to mean what is the story really about at it's heart. Father and sons. Love is blind. We're all the same inside. It's the subtext of the story. To me Jaws theme is "overcoming fear of the water." I know there's a giant fish trying to kill him, but he hated the water. And at the end he's swimming home deep in the ocean after confronting his greatest fear of the water.

    But like anything, people see different themes in stories.

    Premise. -- It's a few sentences of what the story is about. In my mind it can be longer than the logline, but doesn't have to be. Say it's a paragraph of what the story is. A Synopsis in other words. A short one. But it can tells us more about characters, setting, etc.

    It's July 4th coming up and the beach is being terrorized by a great white shark. The sheriff who is afraid of the water does his best to ease fears, but when a young boy is eaten he knows they should shut down the beach. However the mayor won't let him because of the money they make from tourist season. Eventually the sheriff brings in an expert in sharks to help him out. And when they fail to catch him, they hire an expert fisherman to catch and capture the fish. The three men go out to sea to catch a giant fish -- like Moby Dick.

    Story Concept -- What is the core idea of the story? Very close to logline in my eyes.

    A giant great white shark is terrorizing a small tourist town and it's up to the local sheriff to figure out a way to kill the beast.

    ---

    Good news there is no test on this. Unless you are in a class studying this.

    These are all just "tools" that can help you figure out a story. I have never turned over my spec and been asked "what is the theme?" -- if the writing is good, the theme should be obvious. And usually the theme is what calls us to write the script in the first place even if we don't realize it.

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    • #3
      Re: What is the difference?

      Originally posted by barh View Post
      What is the difference, please, among "premise," "theme," "story concept," and might as well throw in "logline?"

      All those John August/John Truby types have vastly different definitions for them.

      One guy says a premise is "more than a quick synopsis." What does that even mean?

      Especially when another guy says a premise is "one sentence only" and another says it's "what's in your heart" before you even come up with a story idea.

      Is it just semantics, referring to the same general ideas? Am I misunderstanding something fundamental? Or are they all messing it up for everyone?

      Not disputing what anyone else says, just offering my own simpleminded interpretation and use of these terms. To continue with Jaws as the example:

      Premise: A shark terrorizes a coastal New England resort and threatens the financial life of the city.
      Elaboration: This is the situation that the story deals with. It is not "snakes on a plane" or "star-crossed lovers" or "a son has to take over the crime family because his heir-apparent brother has been murdered."
      Theme: In Jaws the theme is that obsession with revenge can be destructive.
      Elaboration: A theme can be difficult to define, because it is not really just "what the story is about." Think of the story as a sermon. The theme is the message that the sermon is supposed to convey. I would say that you can also have subthemes that flow out of the story, things like how the Police Chief has to overcome his fear of water. Such a subtheme may also be seen as the "inner obstacle" in contrast to his "outer obstacle," which is to overcome the resistance of the local politicians to any talk of a marauding shark.
      Story Concept: I would think of the story concept foremostly as a combination of the premise, the theme, prominent subthemes, the external goal (to kill the shark), and the nature of the antagonist (the shark), and the obstacle character (Quint, who is flawed by his obsession with revenge).

      Logline: It is a short, pithy summary of the story concept. It should touch on the conflicts in the story and the main goal, all preferably in one sentence.
      Last edited by ComicBent; 04-29-2019, 03:41 PM. Reason: Forgot logline.

      "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: What is the difference?

        premise is the idea of the story... it's the basic plot

        black man infiltrates the KKK

        dinosaurs are brought back to life and wreak havoc in a theme park

        a Texas sized asteroid is on an impact trajectory with earth and must be stopped or destroyed

        a great white shark terrorizes a small beach town

        theme: is the message of the film, it is usually the emotional part of the film. it's what you're trying to say...

        love conquers all

        good overcomes evil

        be careful what you wish for

        trust comes at a price

        story concept: reflects what the struggle is. sticking to the same films as above

        a black man uses his resources as a police officer to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan to expose the members and stop a terrorist attack.

        scientists bring back dinosaurs and plan to open a theme park until the beasts escape captivity and begin eating people and each other.

        a sheriff must hunt down and kill a murderous killer great white in order to save his small beach town.


        Logline: the complete throughline of your outer plot including WHO the story is about, WHAT is the hero's goal, and WHAT (conflict) stands in the hero's way of achieving his goal.
        Last edited by finalact4; 04-30-2019, 07:27 AM.
        "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: What is the difference?

          This looks like fun! I want to play, too. Here's my stab at it:

          PREMISE - Stems from logic, in where one seeks to establish a proposition. In storytelling it is employed as an effective way to engage a potential reader/viewer by stimulating their innate intellectual or emotional curiosity. In other words, it's a mental hook achieved through a fabricated situation that naturally is interesting to us. It's like a round of 'Who'd you rather...' or a game of 'What if...'. In of itself it's not part of the requirements of good writing. But good writing many times has a good premise. But there are also plenty of master level works that have very pedestrian non-flashy premises.

          LOGLINE - At its heart it is an advertisement. It's related to the premise in that a Logline traditionally tries to boil down the premise to one or two brief sentences that are meant only to be read in spaces where space only allows for brief words, like in a TV guide or a query letter. Thus they tend to become obtuse 'power sentences'. But contrary to popular belief there are actual no rules on how they are to be written. The only objective is to get people interested in the work. Here is an example that recently caught my eye that doesn't follow the traditional way of doing it. It is by Javier Grillo-Marxuach:

          CAT LADY

          Hell hath no fury like a pissed-off cat lady. A female-led, character-driven action comedy that takes satirical aim at the conventions of the revenge genre.

          THEME - At its heart it is the 'subject' of a work. In storytelling it is related to the process of communication of ideas or emotions. The key being that there are three components to it: The communicator, the communication itself and the receiver. Author, the story and the audience. The objective is that the author codifies (compresses) his ideas or emotions through a literary work which then at a later date and place gets decodified (decompressed) by an audience. If it all works well, then the audience will be moved to feel or stimulated to think what the author was feeling or thinking. If the work manages to transmit all of its content around one central idea or emotion, then the work is said to have a unified theme.

          There are four known methods of how this transmission can be codified and decodified, each one more difficult than the previous, but also more powerful (Think of them as spells):

          -- Explicit Meaning
          -- Implicit Meaning
          -- Synthetic Meaning
          -- Symptomatic Meaning

          It is also important to note that the higher up one wishes to move in spell category, both the authors AND the audiences have to increase in their codification / decodification abilities. It's like learning a language. For example when the groundbreaking film 'Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat' was first shown, there was a slight imbalance in this equation. Audiences screamed, jumped and generally soiled their pants thinking a real train was coming. But soon they 'learned' how to watch and then were able to 'get' and enjoy the real theme of the film (Holy crap! Look how real this train looks that I just filmed with this new technology!). Both audiences and storytellers then embarked on a frenzied race to constantly up this codification / decodification process, which continues to this date.

          By the way... The last one, The Symptomatic Method of transmitting Meaning, is only for black belt master storytellers and advanced audiences. Please do not try at home.
          Manfred Lopez Grem
          Writer - Director

          REEL - IMDB

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: What is the difference?

            Originally posted by barh View Post
            What is the difference, please, among "premise," "theme," "story concept," and might as well throw in "logline?"
            I understand your confusion and frustration.

            People inside and outside the industry sometimes use concept, premise and logline interchangeably. And because of Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing,” where he refers to the theme/thesis of the story as “premise,” some people talk about “premise,” when they’re actually talking about “theme,” which can cause confusion.

            Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “premise” as: “a statement of fact or a supposition made or implied as a basis of argument.” So, it’s understandable how some could confuse “premise” as “theme,” but in Hollywood “premise” means the communication of what the story is about.

            Understanding the terminology’s unique differences will help a writer build toward writing a strong story/screenplay.

            CONCEPT

            It’s an idea. No plot. Bare bones. Concept is general and not specific. This is why sometimes you’ll see two films come out with the same concept: “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” “Volcano and “Dante’s Peak,” “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down,” “Tombstone” and “Wyatt Earp.”

            Concept isn’t the story. A premise is. Concept builds into the next step...

            PREMISE

            It’s expressing the “A” throughline of the story.

            It’s about the specific details and elements: characters, flaw/arc, goal, conflict/obstacles, plot. This is the building foundation of your story, where all your creative choices will evolve from. (For those who outline, this would be the next step after premise.)

            This is what will make your story different from the other similar concepts.

            For example, in my past thread “High Concept and Low Concept,” I gave an example of Bob Hope’s high concept hook in "Nothing But The Truth," released 1941 , “must tell the truth for 24 hours,” where “Liar Liar” used the same concept (different protagonist): An attorney must tell the truth for 24 hours.

            An example of building on this concept to construct a premise:

            When his son’s birthday wish magically comes true, a deep-rooted, lying attorney must tell the truth for 24 hours -- the day of the biggest case of his career.

            When someone asks the writer, “what’s the premise,” they’re asking, What’s your story about?”

            In this instance, premise and logline are interchangeable. They’re looking for you to give them the one or two sentence logline.

            Does this mean a premise CANNOT be expanded to give more detail/plot?

            In communicating your story to others by way of a quick summary, yes, it’s best to keep it at one or two sentences, but sometimes a writer will expand a premise for his own personal use to help him stay on track in the writing process.

            For an example of an expanded premise, a new writer can enter the logline forum and enter finalact4’s logline thread. On page 6, post 55, I gave her a suggested logline and I gave an expanded premise to make sure I understood the plot/story correctly.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: What is the difference?

              As you can see we all sort of agree, but not exactly.

              People can mean the same thing using the words logline and concept and premise. They are all "What's it about?"

              Theme stands out as "What's it REALLY about?"

              That's the bare bones to me.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: What is the difference?

                Logline -- 1 sentence
                Outline -- scenes in screenplays
                Synopsis -- few paragraphs
                Treatment -- the whole thing written out like a novel
                Script -- the screenplay itself, the spec, the main event

                I feel these are the top 5 things you will encounter on your writing script journey.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: What is the difference?

                  Originally posted by ComicBent View Post
                  Not disputing what anyone else says, just offering my own simpleminded interpretation and use of these terms. To continue with Jaws as the example:

                  Premise: A shark terrorizes a coastal New England resort and threatens the financial life of the city.
                  Elaboration: This is the situation that the story deals with. It is not "snakes on a plane" or "star-crossed lovers" or "a son has to take over the crime family because his heir-apparent brother has been murdered."
                  Theme: In Jaws the theme is that obsession with revenge can be destructive.
                  Elaboration: A theme can be difficult to define, because it is not really just "what the story is about." Think of the story as a sermon. The theme is the message that the sermon is supposed to convey. I would say that you can also have subthemes that flow out of the story, things like how the Police Chief has to overcome his fear of water. Such a subtheme may also be seen as the "inner obstacle" in contrast to his "outer obstacle," which is to overcome the resistance of the local politicians to any talk of a marauding shark.
                  Story Concept: I would think of the story concept foremostly as a combination of the premise, the theme, prominent subthemes, the external goal (to kill the shark), and the nature of the antagonist (the shark), and the obstacle character (Quint, who is flawed by his obsession with revenge).

                  Logline: It is a short, pithy summary of the story concept. It should touch on the conflicts in the story and the main goal, all preferably in one sentence.
                  This is the most erudite response. Although he used the word himself, be reminded of ComicBent that “simpleminded” he is not. The word “simplified” would be a more appropriate word in his preamble to the listing of his personal definitions.
                  Last edited by TigerFang; 04-30-2019, 07:00 PM.
                  "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.- - Ray Bradbury

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: What is the difference?

                    Originally posted by ComicBent View Post
                    Logline: It is a short, pithy summary of the story concept. It should touch on the conflicts in the story and the main goal, all preferably in one sentence.
                    This is a pretty cool definition. The only one minor squabble I have is with the notion that the logline should touch on the conflict in the story. While this is certainly a good strategy, it does not always work best in selling the screenplay to producers and agents, or the resulting movie to the public. The only reason I bring this up is because I often see many writers twisting themselves into knots trying to cram in the conflict of their screenplays into a logline while completely forgetting that the objective is to make us excited to read it. I get the feeling that they view it more as a polygraph test of whether their story has a worthy conflict or not.

                    But the truth is you're allowed to use whatever tactics work. If you have to purposely concentrate on only one aspect of the plot, so be it. If you have to highlight your villain, then that's what you do. If you have to highlight a very cool Sophie's Choice type of a situation, then that's what you go for.

                    In keeping with the Jaws example, that movie is celebrated as having one of the best all-time concepts. One word: Jaws. The logline basically can be this:
                    A killer shark terrorizes a small resort town.

                    But that certainly is not the real conflict of the story. If not the logline would have to be more something like this:
                    The sheriff and the mayor of a small resort town clash on how to deal with the chaos unleashed by the attacks of a great white shark.

                    And if you follow the 'formula' for loglines that I have seen floating out there, then you end up with what user-contributed IMDb has:
                    When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it's up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.

                    So the question is, out of these three versions, which one works best to quickly sell us on the movie? The longest and most convoluted one? Or the shortest one? One hint is the poster itself. A girl in a bikini is about to be swallowed by Jaws. And audiences flocked to see this. Nowhere on it do we see three dudes and their inner struggle to be right.

                    Basically what I'm saying is, it took me a long time to learn that a Logline is not a mini synopsis of the story.
                    Manfred Lopez Grem
                    Writer - Director

                    REEL - IMDB

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: What is the difference?

                      Originally posted by manfredlopez View Post
                      But the truth is you're allowed to use whatever tactics work. If you have to purposely concentrate on only one aspect of the plot, so be it. If you have to highlight your villain, then that's what you do. If you have to highlight a very cool Sophie's Choice type of a situation, then that's what you go for.

                      In keeping with the Jaws example, that movie is celebrated as having one of the best all-time concepts. One word: Jaws. The logline basically can be this:
                      A killer shark terrorizes a small resort town.

                      But that certainly is not the real conflict of the story. If not the logline would have to be more something like this:
                      The sheriff and the mayor of a small resort town clash on how to deal with the chaos unleashed by the attacks of a great white shark.

                      And if you follow the 'formula' for loglines that I have seen floating out there, then you end up with what user-contributed IMDb has:
                      When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community, it's up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.

                      So the question is, out of these three versions, which one works best to quickly sell us on the movie? The longest and most convoluted one? Or the shortest one? One hint is the poster itself. A girl in a bikini is about to be swallowed by Jaws. And audiences flocked to see this. Nowhere on it do we see three dudes and their inner struggle to be right.

                      Basically what I'm saying is, it took me a long time to learn that a Logline is not a mini synopsis of the story.
                      The logline that you’ve suggested that a writer could basically use to get his screenplay across, “A killer shark terrorizes a small resort town,” is a concept. It surely is an attention grabber, but it’s too general. It just expresses a high concept hook.

                      Technically you could call your one sentence example a logline, but it’s not the Hollywood standard of a logline, the one or two sentence that will express the story’s premise that communicates what the FULL/WHOLE dramatic story is gonna be about.

                      When a writer wants to entice an industry person to request their script, the industry person is gonna want to know what the essence of the story is. The “A” throughline of the story that’ll reveal the hero/protagonist that an audience will identify with and follow; the hero’s goal; antagonist that cause conflict/obstacles that’ll keep the hero from achieving the goal; implying/expressing the stakes on what will happen, success or failure, if the hero doesn’t achieve his goal.

                      Your example logline expresses the antagonist, conflict and it implies what’s at stake, but missing is the hero and his goal. Two important elements that an industry person needs to know.

                      The marketing materials of its title JAWS, it’s tagline and the poster are all strong elements to capture an audience’s attention, but they are just teasers of the concept. They don’t give/communicate to the industry person the full story/essence of what the writer has completed/executed.

                      The following is an example of a Hollywood standard logline for the film, JAWS:

                      When swimmers are killed in a resort town, the police chief, with a phobia for the ocean, must hunt and kill a monstrous white shark.

                      What this 25 word, logline example gets across to the industry person of the story that the writer is pitching to entice him to request his screenplay is the following:

                      High concept
                      Horror/thriller genre
                      Tone
                      Setting/World
                      Inciting Incident: swimmers killed
                      Protagonist: police chief
                      Character flaw/arc: phobia for the ocean (This element is what he must overcome to achieve his goal.)
                      Goal: must hunt and kill a shark
                      Antagonist: monstrous white shark
                      Conflict/obstacles: overcoming a phobia and he must hunt and kill a cunning and monstrous shark.
                      Stakes: the people and the resort town that he sworn to protect will die.

                      The greedy mayor and town council are also antagonist of the story, not wanting to shut down the beach, but they’re not THE antagonist, the shark is, so only the shark should be represented in the logline.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: What is the difference?

                        Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post
                        When swimmers are killed in a resort town, the police chief, with a phobia for the ocean, must hunt and kill a monstrous white shark.
                        I believe all this boils down to opinion. Writers are free to present their material however they wish. If you want to use that logline, then fine. But man, that is one awkward triple-coma sentence. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said I see many people twisting themselves into a knot trying to cram in a 'checklist' of requirements. At some point the sentence stops being organic and engaging. It also makes it sound like the Police Chief's main obstacle during the entire ark of the movie is his phobia of the water.

                        But like I said, it all is just an opinion. The only rule is that there are no rules. It turns out that nowadays you can even write an entire screenplay without ever using a single sentence-ending period*... and still land on the 7th spot of the Black List of best un-produced scripts of 2018.

                        * Cobweb by Chris Thomas Devlin (very interesting read)
                        Manfred Lopez Grem
                        Writer - Director

                        REEL - IMDB

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: What is the difference?

                          Originally posted by JoeNYC View Post
                          The greedy mayor and town council are also antagonist of the story, not wanting to shut down the beach, but they're not THE antagonist, the shark is, so only the shark should be represented in the logline.
                          By the way, if you Google 'Antagonist in Jaws' this comes up as the first result:
                          But the sea monster isn't the film's primary villain, nor - arguably - is it even the most frightening. Structurally speaking, Jaws pits protagonist Martin Brody, Amity's chief of police, against two distinct antagonists, the shark being only the latter and simpler of the two.

                          I'm not saying you are wrong. I'm just saying it's all debatable. An opinion.
                          Manfred Lopez Grem
                          Writer - Director

                          REEL - IMDB

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: What is the difference?

                            And this was my whole point to start off -- it doesn't help you write 1 god damn word if you master these 4 terms -- now does it ?

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: What is the difference?

                              Originally posted by manfredlopez View Post
                              that is one awkward triple-coma sentence. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said I see many people twisting themselves into a knot trying to cram in a 'checklist' of requirements. ... But like I said, it all is just an opinion. The only rule is that there are no rules.
                              Who's the antagonist of JAWS that a writer feels should be included in the logline is an opinion, but the following logline of "A killer shark terrorizes a small resort town- is not an effective logline.

                              This is not a matter of opinion. It's a fact according to the Hollywood standard of what the industry would like the logline to present.

                              I've heard this over and over again from professionals in the industry. I researched for an industry voice on this matter of what makes for an effective logline and the best one would be Christopher Lockhart who is an executive at WME, where he looks for projects for "A- list clients. He's also an educator and producer.

                              The following is what he, a working professional in the industry, expects a logline to present:

                              "A logline must present who the story is about (protagonist). What he strives for (goal). What stands in his way (antagonistic force).-

                              -- Chris doesn't say this is just my opinion, or this is what I suggest. He explicitly states it MUST be included.

                              Manfredlopez, in your first JAWS' example you're missing two of the three elements an industry professional says MUST be included.

                              Chris Lockhart says, "The character's goal is the engine of a screenplay, and it must be present in the logline. ... The high concept for LIAR, LIAR is a 'lawyer that cannot tell a lie. ... However, a 'high concept' idea is not a logline. 'A lawyer that cannot tell a lie' does not offer much in the way of the three (sometimes four) story elements.-

                              -- Chris gives an example of a logline for LIAR, LIAR, but I must warn you, manfredlopez, if you didn't like how I used commas to offset a character's flaw/arc, you're really gonna hate this logline example.

                              Chris Lockhart says, "A proper logline for LIAR, LIAR could go: When his son wishes he will only tell the truth, an attorney, and pathological liar, is magically compelled to be honest for one day and struggles to win the biggest case of his career - without telling a lie.-

                              Seven more logline examples from Christopher Lockhart:

                              THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND

                              A Scottish doctor, practicing medicine in Uganda, befriends President Idi Amin - becoming his personal physician as a reign of power and murder overwhelms the country.

                              SEABISCUIT

                              An intuitive horse trainer, a diehard jockey, and a wealthy horselover struggle to prepare an ungainly thoroughbred for a record-breaking world championship.

                              THE BOOK OF ELI

                              In a post apocalyptic USA, a lone warrior - on a mission from God - struggles to deliver a book to San Francisco - a book that a despot will stop at nothing to take from him.

                              VALKYRIE

                              A group of Nazi party members - led by a patriotic colonel - plots to kill Hitler and take back Berlin.

                              CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN

                              A married couple struggles to balance a relationship, a new home, careers, and twelve children.

                              CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2

                              As the kids grow, Tom Baker plans one last vacation at the lake, where he squares off with his old rival - putting his family in the middle of the feud.

                              FUGITIVE

                              A doctor - falsely accused of murdering his wife - struggles on the lam as he desperately searches for the killer with a relentless federal agent hot on his trail.

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