i'm just a literary tease, my reputation's on its knees.

On Writing A Novel, Premise

July 27, 2006

Even though I havenít yet completed a novel, I am glad to have come across David Maaseís Writing the Breakout Novel before I started writing. Reading this book has forced to me to examine my characters and novel premise, using Maaseís principles, I will be able to create a better novel right from the start, which is much better, Iím sure, than trying to revise an already completed work to fit these standards.

For instance, Maase suggests that the breakout premise must contain four vital elements:

The first of these is PLAUSIBILITY.

The premise behind the book must be realistic in that it could happen to anyone. This makes sense to me. Having a plausible scenario at the core of the premise ensures that the future reader can relate to the main character in a personal, emotional way. So, rather than have, say, a robot who is simply programmed to seek out chocolate chips cookies; I must, instead, design a flaw in the robotís programming that causes the robot to crave chocolate chip cookies.

Okay, so maybe the robot example seems like a bad one, but the comparison is apt for the very fact that human beings are not robots: we are living, breathing, swirling pits of emotional surges and hormonal urges that propel us forward, battering us with their often-conflicting wants and desires. I must constantly remember this as I create my characters (or, some may argue, the characters create themselves on the screen).
For instance: In my novel, I see Daniel searching for his mother. Danielís father has just died and Daniel, who had assumed somewhere along the line that his mother was dead, just found out that she was still alive. The reasons for his search, however, are anything but clear.

On one hand, Daniel wants to find his mother because only she holds the key for his sale of the Calliope Circus. He wants to know more about the woman who left her baby behind. He is angry with her, and yet curious and hopeful, because maybe, if he finds her, she will take him away. The events of his search for his mother become more and more outlandish as the story progresses.

As he searches, his feelings about finding her become more and more ambivalent such that by the time she turns up, he refuses to believe she is who she says she is and leaves her behind. This is plausible because at the root of the story is Danielís conflicted desire to find his mother: What abandoned child wouldnít have these mixed feelings?

Next, Maase suggests that the very setting of the story must contain INHERENT CONFLICT.

The setting itself is a vital ingredient in the story: although the premise behind the story brings it to the level such that it could happen anywhere at anytime (i.e. a child wants to find his mother), the details of this story could only happen at this time in this particular and very specific place. For my novel, the setting weaves throughout the story line in every aspect. Danielís life is quite different from an ordinary childís life and therefore everything about him has been influenced by his unusual lifestyle. The circus freaks themselves hold all of the cards; one by one they reveal their secrets.

Still, a restaurant is a restaurant, just as a circus is a circus. The setting must also be plausible, in addition to setting up a rolling series of mini-conflicts that send Daniel on his way to the ultimate meeting between mother and child.

Third, Maase says that a breakout premise must be packed full of ORIGINALITY.

Although some people might argue that there is only one story with a few variations on theme, the truth is that a story of any lasting value must stand out from the pack, and as publishing becomes more and more available on a smaller level with print-on demand and big publishing houses combine, grow, and change, with the vast market saturation and a world more constantly deluged with mass media, this will only become more vital.

So, I could pen novels with all of the required elements of the genre, stock characters and situations, and maybe even make a sale, but if I want a breakout novel, I better sharpen my most valuable asset as a writer: my vivid imagination.

My novel premise is plump with creative ideas; I am a bizarrely unusual person so these elements of myself are bound to show up on the screen. The trick, then, is to work these creative elements into the plot and setting in a way that retains the afore-mentioned plausibility and inherent conflict. Since Iím pretty sure a circus that transforms into a restaurant such as Calliope has never before existed, creativity is intrinsic in its very creation.

Finally, Maase requires GUT EMOTIONAL APPEAL.

This, I felt, might be the weakest point of my starting premise: The story original began with a thirty-year old man (Daniel) searching for his long-lost mother. I realized this age had all sorts of problems: Why did it take Daniel so long to start searching? Why isnít Daniel married or at least settled in his life at this point? Whatís wrong with a 30 year old man who has never been in a serious relationship?

Since I didnít want to explore these issues, I mused on the problems and realized that I needed to start the story right at Danielís fatherís death, rather than years later, after the transition of the circus to a restaurant, after Daniel has completed the grieving process. The story is much more immediate is the reader watches the transform taking place before his or her very eyes.

The original Daniel is cynical, depressed. I need to show the road that takes him there: It is the journey, rather than the outcome, that matters most in real life, so why not in my novel?

Changing Danielís age creates a new set of problems: burgeoning sexuality, teenage insolence and apathy, soul searching during the transition between childhood and adulthood, but these are problems I feel more qualified to address.

Now that I have read Maaseís book, I feel much more prepared to create what I hope will be a work of substance, a story that comes alive on the page and inspires people to keep reading. Hereís hoping!

Moira at 09:03 PM :: Comments (0) :: ę :: Ľ
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