This is a movie premise*. It was written for the film that became “Batman Begins.” In no more than 5 pages, it explains to possibly interested executives everything that will happen in the film. The final cut of “Batman Begins” came in at 2 hours and 20 minutes. How is it possible that someone sold the idea of the film to a studio with 5 pages of brief explanation?

Someone got trained, and you can too.

There’s both a screenwriting minor and a screenwriting certificate offered through Missouri State University (my soon-to-be alma mater), and the first class you take in the process is called “Genre Writing for Television and Film.” It will kick your butt. I picked it up as a general media elective to finish the hours in my minor, and I’ve spent the semester alternately interested, entertained, and scared half to death. I’m a good writer. On certain days, I’m a great writer. I am not, however, a premise writer. I’d never done it before (nor had anyone else in the class), and it’s been an uphill climb to learn how to do it right.

I have not, for the record, managed to do it exactly right, yet. I just turned in my second assignment. It was a movie premise (for the first assignment, I did a television premise). It was a romantic comedy idea. I was told it was funny (good!), and then I was told that I needed a third act, a good chunk of world-building, and some more character development. I was also told that I had a good concept that could make a good script, and that I needed to stop writing like an English major (a common complaint amongst Media profs who have taught me Media writing).

Reviewing the notes from the critique, and rereading my premise, I realized that I probably won’t be turning it into a script any time soon. For one, I don’t have the time to take the necessary courses to learn how to write a good script. For another, reading through it again I saw, in a sudden burst of late realization, that my movie premise could easily be the outline for a novel. And not only that, but I knew how everything started and carried on and ended, and thanks to the critique, I knew where I needed to start working on the overall story.

I’ve never outlined a novel. It’s not my style, and the bare, roman numeral outlines I’ve always been told to lay out have always struck me as too bland for something as large-scale and detail-oriented as a novel. But the movie premise formula, the layout and explanation, this is something I can use, and I think it’s something you could use too. If you’ve got something like “Genre Writing” on your campus, and you want to learn to write better, take the class. You’ll get your butt handed to you, but that’s the point. To be a better writer, you have to be ready to be told what you’re doing now isn’t good enough. I will probably not end up writing premises for television or movies, but now I have a way to figure out how to write just about everything else.

*For more premises (as well as scripts), see simplyscripts.com.

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