HOW TO INCORPORATE A PREMISE
Every story should have a premise. This is different than a plot or a conflict. Plot describes what is happening. Conflict describes why it’s not happening. But premise. Now that’s something that it’ll take a moment to sink our teeth into. James Frey in How To Write a Damn Good Novel says that EVERY story, if it is to be published by a company, must have a premise.
The picture for today is an excellent description of what happens to your novel if there is no premise. It could very well read: PREMISE ENDS YOUR NOVEL’S SILENT DESTRUCTION. So what is a premise. I’d say that a premise is the “moral of the story.” It’s the lesson-learned or the less unlearned. It’s the thing that the reader is looking for inside of your characters, and then the reader wants to see that theme plastered on the street signs in your small suburban town.
Here are some memorable premises:
1) Turtle and the Hare: the race is not given to the swift, but to him who endures.
2) Green Eggs and Ham: Try things you haven’t had before. You might just like it.
3) The Grinch That Stole Christmas: Christmas is about more than just presents.
Each of these stories says something to the reader that we can all see. If your story does not have this, then your scenes aren’t connected. That’s harsh, but it’s true.
1) Sara went home.
2) Sara got in bed.
3) Sara went to sleep.
4) Sara woke up.
5) Sara was happy.
What the heck are you talking about!!! That makes no sense. Sara is useless. This story has no meaning! It’s not even a story…it’s…it’s…it’s a series of events, linked together, b-by numbers! Poppycock!
This is going to be great. Watch how this works. Let’s say the premise is this: Sleeping can be peaceful. Now, there’s a point. Questions come to mind. Thoughts arise. What about Sara made her sleep unpeacefully? Was it Freddie? Was he haunting her nightmares again?
Let’s try another premise: Death is not inevitable. This gives us the idea that every decision Sara has made has caused her anxiety because she felt that she was going to die. Not in this story she doesn’t.
Here’s one more premise: Aliens can become humans. See how that changes the linkage of events.
This is just a small example, but if our stories don’t each have a premise, then we are not able to fully pull the reader into what we’re saying. Frey describes a novelist who realized that all of her unpublished novels did not have premises, and all of her published novels did. Coincidence? Maybe. Probably not, though.
In the spectrum of a novel where there are dozens of scenes, the premise needs to unite them all. See how the example above links the scenes together in a different way? We should consider this whenever we are writing.