Hi from Gail Gaymer Martin at www.gailmartin.com – or visit my writing blog at www.writingright-martin.blogspot.com Writing is a lonely business and needs concentration, hard work, and constant honing. So as always it’s my pleasure to share some writing types with you. I’ve begun a series of blogs on Creating Story – and this is the third in the series.
When developing story, premise is another factor that happens early in the planning as you build your story. Premise is hypothesis of your novel, the assumptions that come from the basic idea. From the way you build your story, readers presume the story will follow a logical pattern, so authors can be assured that readers have expectations.
The expectations are based on their past experiences. Let’s say, a man and woman decide to marry on an exotic island. They assume the novel will contain a wedding and a trip to an island that will probably lead to humorous events. If a book opens with a man lifting the lid of his trunk and finding a dead body, the reader assumes he will contact the police and the story will be the pursuit of the killer and perhaps why the body was in this man’s car. Consider your personal assumptions when you hear the premise of a novel or movie.
So when you are developing a story, where does premise begin?
A premise begins with that first nugget of an idea. What happens if someone left a baby on your doorstep? What would happen if you received a letter telling you a great uncle left you a fortune in his will? What would happen if you won the lottery? What would happen if the woman you loved asked you to marry her only for convenience? You could come up with a hundred “if”s.
. . .if your dog dug up a human arm in your back woods?
. . .if you found an old map in your attic?
. . .if you learned as an adult you had a biological mother who gave you away?
. . .if you were accused of murder without an alibi?
. . .if your husband vanished coming home from work?
. . .if you fell in love with a prisoner?
. . .if you were asked to work undercover?
Here are some movies you may have seen.
. . .if people were unable to lie. Invention of Lying
. . .if four men on an overnight stag party forget what happened. Hangover
. . .if an abused pregnant teen decides her life must change Precious
This list could go on eternally, but this premise list is a sample of many creative “what ifs”. The premise is the idea that you will use to build your story.
To be effective, Donald Maass, agent and novelist, author of Writing the Breakout Novel, lists four elements that must be present for a great novel, one that will break away from the pack. But whether writing a breakout novel or a novel you can be proud of, study the following list and build these elements into your story premise.
Plausible – Each of the “what ifs” listed above are things that could happen in real life to someone. Women have fallen love with prisoners, people have learned they were adopted later in life, and teens do decide they will no longer be abused and seek help. Yes, the movie Invention of Lying is not reality but the concept is still plausible in a remote setting where the rest of the world had made no impact on their lives.
Inherent Conflicts – Built into the “what if” must be problems that are natural to the situation. A person learning he was adopted faces life changes. He wants to know who his real parents are and why his adopted parents never told him. This can result in a difficult search not guaranteed to bring about welcome results, and it could cause hurt or estrangement from the adoptive parents. Someone finding a dead body leads to internal conflict and tension in the form of personal fear and perhaps struggle with police. You can think of many other conflicts that might result.
Deep Emotion – Emotion is what connects your characters and story to the reader, so the deeper the angst and conflicts the more the story will appeal to most readers. People want to see the underdog win, and a story of struggle to survive or to overcome or to reach an important goal is what makes the story stand out.
– The more unusual your premise the more chance you have to write a story that captures readers’ interest. Seeking a premise that hasn’t been used before or rarely used is not easy but it is possible. The Invention of Lying is one of those movies that is different. Another way to make your story original is to take your premise and give it a twist.
Twisting the premise
is a way to give your story a boost. It takes the readers’ expectations and kicks them up a notch. Take a look at some ideas that worked:
Sixth Sense – This movie leads the viewer through the struggles of a social worker who was shot by his patient, survives and tries understand why it happened as it affects his relationship with other patients. The premise is that we expect him to learn to deal with the trauma and then help others even more. If you were on your toes, you might have caught the twist. I didn’t in this movie. The social worker is murdered. He did not survive the attack, yet his spirit continues to try to live the life he lived before while strange things happen.
Rosemary’s Baby – A story of a man and woman anxious to have their first child who meet an odd couple living in their apartment. The premise is based on the normal expectation. The man and woman will have a normal, human child. I’m sure you know this movie so no more explanation is needed.
As you can see by taking a premise with traditional expectations and twisting it, you come up with a more original story.
what if the body in the trunk looks identical to the man who found it.
what if the map in the attic leads to a place vaguely recalled from childhood where something had happened the person blocked from memory
what if body found in the woods is the person’s former spouse
Along with building a plot, creating characters and developing a theme, take time to consider the basic premise of your story. How can you give it an unexpected twist? How can you make it more original? How can you add something that will surprise your readers? A good premise is one way you can add a spark to your story that will linger with readers long after they’ve read your novel.