By Steven Pressfield
Published: December 10, 2014
[Continuing our look back at The Legend of Bagger Vance, seeking writers' lessons and insights on the book's 20th anniversary. P.S. Don't forget this year's Black Irish Christmas Special, featuring the brand-new, leather-bound, signed and numbered (only 2500 available) anniversary edition of Bagger Vance.]
Sometimes a story—particularly fantasy, historical or sci-fi—needs a conceptual Premise. By that I mean a hypothetical truth that informs the drama the way, say, the airfoil-shaped wing informs the idea of an airplane.
The conceptual premise of The Legend of Bagger Vance is “the Authentic Swing.”
Premise is different from theme. It’s different from concept. It’s even different from “What if?”
Here are examples of premises in fiction and movies:
1. A certain ring contains the secret power of the universe. Whoever possesses the ring possesses that power.
2. In the future, technology exists that can detect crimes before they are committed. “PreCrime” is a division of police departments in this future.
3. In the future, creatures called “replicants” have been created, which are virtually identical to humans. Replicants, by the nature of their genesis, have no memories of childhood or of any past before they were created. Thus, to control them and to keep them emotionally stable, their manufacturer has implanted artificial memories, which the replicants believe to be real. When replicants discover this ruse and see through it, it is deeply distressing to them.
Sometimes non-fantasy/sci-fi stories have premises as well.
1. Love and hard work can overcome (or at least mitigate) certain psychological conditions such as bipolar disorder.
2. It is possible to recreate the past, specifically to recover a lost love, through force of will, abundant means, and an overpoweringly vivid reinvention of oneself and one’s world.
(These are the premises of Lord of the Rings, Minority Report, Blade Runner, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Great Gatsby.)
One curious thing about premises: they don’t have to be true. A premise is simply the supposition upon which the dramatic superstructure of the story is based. The reader/audience doesn’t have to buy into the truth of the premise in real life as long as he or she accepts it in the story. Nor do all the characters in the drama have to believe in the premise (though of course it’s better if they do). It’s enough for one character to believe the premise (Jay Gatsby, for example). The story can work, based on that alone.
But back to “the Authentic Swing.” What exactly is it and how does it fit into The Legend of Bagger Vance?