Premise - a promise in disguise!
Like many writers, when I am fired up by ideas and excitingly plotting a story, I tend to go overboard at first, and the kitchen sink can end up in there – not literally, of course. But I do, however, find I can very easily veer away from my main plot if I’m not careful and end up stumbling around, disenchanted and confused as to where my exciting first ideas have disappeared to.
This is where I find story premise a most helpful guide if used properly. It took me a while to fully understand this important tool but now I use it, quite easily, as a road map to stay on course during the working out of my plot and then the actual writing of my story. The very last thing a writer wants, I think, is to end up piling up thousands of words but wandering so far from the original plotlines that you end up having to cut much of it or, worse, changing the plot to fit what you’ve written! In my opinion that’s a recipe for a mish-mash that even the most astute reader cannot fathom.
Premise comes down to thinking about what the story is really all about? And that takes some figuring out sometimes. It’s about deciding what you are trying to say with your story – what is the message? For instance, is it about strong human emotion? Are you trying to say that no matter what, love can overcome all obstacles and lead to happiness? Or that hate leads to self destruction? Or that jealousy can lead to obsession and loss? (Just a couple of examples – I’m sure you can think of many of your own!).
The job of the thriller writer then, is to prove that premise by working out a plot, with all the pitfalls, obstacles and setbacks for the main characters as can be imagined. Not forgetting rising tension and suspense and adding subplots where necessary - these can all enrich the story… But, ultimately, the premise must rule and everything that happens in the story should contribute in some way to the premise being unequivocally proved at the end of the story.
You cannot start a story by deciding it is about love conquering all and end up with it being about a vengeful deed which succeeded. The reader will feel cheated because you promised one thing at the beginning and then delivered something else.
For me, reading James N Frey’s book (‘How to write damn good fiction’), in which he talks about premise, has been the most helpful regarding this important, in my opinion, aspect of writing fiction.
Do you agree that premise is important or not? Many writers do have a premise which is unstated but nevertheless they instinctively do stick to it. Are you one of these? Or do you just write and see where it takes you?