Monday, August 31, 2009

Revisiting Premises

Donald Maass talks about developing a breakout premise in his Writing the Breakout Novel. I read The Moral Premise, so this topic is fairly familiar to me, and I really get the necessity of it for our novels to have a deep meaning that can help change people, or at least encourage them to think and contemplate. Who doesn't want their stories to go beyond entertaining? To help create a new reader in one way or another? I do.

So here are some pointers that Donald Maass offers. One I've heard many times, but is definitely worth hearing again: "...frequent application of the question "What if?""

Do you pull out that "What if?" trick whenever things start getting a little too simple, eye-lid drooping boring in your novels? What about pulling it out while contemplating your book's premise? This two-word question can help writers in so very many ways. It's one to keep ready and waiting in your hat at all phases in your writing process.

Should you tend to the obvious for a premise? Donald Maass suggests not. The more unique and interesting your premise, the closer you'll be to creating a breakout novel. So how do we grab hold of unique? Pick some premises that have touched you and tie them together, or mold them into a fresh new one that is ever more powerful. Ask the what if's. Keep digging until you touch on something that resonates, something that your core feels strongly about--strong enough about to run the course of a whole novel because you've never read anything that tackled this specific premise before--and certainly not not in your crafty way.

Seek gut emotional appeal in developing your premise. Don't hold back. Dig into that pot of emotions, stir them up, and be willing to tackle them in your stories. Writing isn't for the weak.

Inherent conflict is also a must in creating a breakout premise. Is your story set in a safe place, safe setting? How can you make that NOT safe? Do so, and then you'll discover some breakout inherent conflict.

Plausibility. I believe if you follow the above guidelines, you can't help but find a plausible premise, but it is worth noting that plausibility is a must. I don't know how you can get gut emotional appeal without plausibility, though!

So there you have it--the recipe for a breakout premise. So, how do you go about finding the premises for your stories?


Surrendering to Him,

Eileen

20 comments:

Stephanie Faris said...

An idea just comes to me and I ruminate on it for a while, usually while I'm working on the manuscript that precedes it. By the time I get to the end of a manuscript, in fact, the voices for the next one are speaking to me so loudly, I feel compelled to write it. At least that's how it works when everything's flowing.

I'll try adding the "What if?" concept to my process.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Actually, the "what if" question doesn't work for me. LOL!

I learned "what's the worst that can happen" question gets the juices flowing for me better. :)

Lazy Writer said...

I am really enjoying your posts on this subject. It's always food for thought. Thanks!

T. Anne said...

You did a terrific job explaining the crux of Don's book. I think I needed you as a companion guide lol! (I read it last spring). I def. need to stir the emotions in my current WIP and make my premiss unique. I'll have to mull this one over today as I get to my chores. BTW< I got the book in the mail and it was the one bright spot for me, so big thank you!

Kristen Torres-Toro @ Write in the Way said...

Hi, Eileen!!!

I love that: "writing isn't for the weak." That's so true!

My premise usually comes to me as I write. I get to the end of my stories and go, "oh, that's what it was about. I knew it was building up to something!" It's frustrating, but it's fun for me to be "surprised" as well! And it gives me a better idea as to how believable it is!

Georgiana said...

You are SOOO right--writing isn't for the weak! Wimpy need not apply, LOL. You will all have to take great notes at the conference, I'm sorry to have to miss his workshop.

Erica Vetsch said...

What did you think of The Moral Premise? I felt like a complete dunce through the first half of the book or so. By the midway point I hit my stride and could figure out how to apply what he was saying.

Jeanette Levellie said...

I don't write novels but I love reading ones that have a twist at the end, and keep me shaking my head for days afterwards at the genius of them.

Jessica said...

Out of the four manuscripts I have, I think the one you read has the most unique premise. I don't know if it's breakout good, but I think it's different.
Whatever I write next, I hope I'll take the idea and give it some sort of different twist so an editor will be like, hmmm, haven't seen that before.
Thanks for sharing all this good stuff! :-)

Lily said...

Good tips. I'll remember them when I reread.

Keli Gwyn said...

I keep hearing great things about The Moral Premise. I'm adding it to my To Be Purchased list.

Jody Hedlund said...

Great points, Eileen! I haven't thought about trying to use the "what if" question to dig deeper into my moral premise, but that's something I'm going to think about as I work on my newest book! Thank you!

Cindy said...

I like asking "what if?" Before and during the time I write my novel. I try to figure out my premise at the beginning. What message do I want to get across to my readers. Then I put my characters in situations and ask "what if?" I try to figure out ways to show that premise. But it is hard, sometimes! I've read about three or four posts on The Breakout Novel today. I'm definitely going to check that out.

Jill Kemerer said...

I agree that our books have to stand out and to do it, we have to find a way to make it unique. I ask tons of questions of my characters when I'm writing. One thing I'm working on is avoiding cliche's. It's hard!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

To hit the emotional target, plausibility is a must. The reader must feel the scenario could happen in real life and possibly to them.

When I read novels, in some ways I become the female protagonist or befriend her. I recently read a book where I was so wrapped up in the story that I dreamed about the situations for days.

Great post, as usual. :)

Blessings,
Susan

Katie Ganshert said...

The power of What If! I need to utilize those two words more often. Definitely.

My post on Wed. is about inherent conflict! Maas really knows his stuff. :)

Heather Sunseri said...

I really like this post, Eileen! I love the "what if" idea. I'm definitely going to be using this as I attempt to wrap up my first draft.

Warren Baldwin said...

It's only in the last few years that I've become aware of how powerful fiction can be to change lives. I like this quote of yours: "I really get the necessity of it for our novels to have a deep meaning that can help change people, or at least encourage them to think and contemplate." Good post. wb

Need More Words said...

Thanks for the great post. I've done the "What if" in some writing exercises and have come up with some very funny and very different things than I would normally write. It did stretch me.
Diane

Terri Tiffany said...

When I was laying out the plot for my book, I asked that question. ANd then I kept asking all the way through and sometimes I would surprise myself with the answer:)