Two Cities

Lesson 44 Chapter 2 Module 5

Remember yesterday when we started talking about concept and premise?

Then we learned about how the premise of ideas is usually what spurs animals (remember, humans are animals) to take action.

And I mentioned that the premise is like an elevator pitch for the piece?

Well, the concept for a story is breaking that down even further.

Where the premise covers a bit more about the motivations, characters, settings, actions, conflicts, and outcomes—the concept is way more simple.

The concept is literally just 5-10 words.

What is the this going to be about, without much detail.

It is often what fuels your hook or lead, the very beginning of your piece that captures your reader’s attention and makes them want to know what the premise is going to be. What are they going to get? What action will they be compelled to take? The promise of action and future is exciting for them.

So today, we’re looking at one of the most famous opening lines in literature. Even if you haven’t read the whole book, you’ve likely heard either these exact words or some variation:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

When Dickens wrote that at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, he was doing so much.

He was hooking us into his concept:

  • What was so good about the times?
  • What was so terrible about the times?
  • How can times simultaneously be so good and so terrible?

The only way we get those answers? We have to continue reading.

He spends the rest of the introduction (you’ll find this especially in the Extended Lesson document, whether you complete the entire piece as copywork or just read it after) telling us about the two cities.

Basically, he’s setting up the premise for us. We are about to learn not only about these two cities, but the people and events and...times...of the cities.

Linguistically, I love these first couplets because they add an extra dimension that you might not even realize.

As Dickens writes the juxtapositions in the text, he is training our brains to think in twos.

How brilliant is that?!

Not only is the concept and premise about the comparing of these two cities, and the worlds within them—the writing is about comparing of two these two ideas, and the words within them.

See how important our language choice is to what we do? And how playing with it can serve multiple purposes, and possibly land a writer some of the most recognized words of all time? 

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