Friday, June 17, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: June 2011--How to Write a Damn Good Novel, II


James N. Frey claims that "there's no more powerful concept in fiction writing than that of premise. If you structure your stories with a strong premise in mind, your novel will be well focused and dramatically powerful, and it will hold your readers from beginning to end."

So what is "premise"? Frey defines it as "a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story."

The first step in finding the premise, Frey claims, is asking "what is this story about?

"Once you know what the story is about, you will be able to say, "Here is my truth: Human nature is such that, given a particular set of characters tested by a particular set of conflicts, the course of events will change human beings in this particular way."

To demonstrate what he means, Frey shows the process in action:

"Okay, say it's a story of love. The only love worth writing about is some kind of powerful love, whether it's filial, brotherly, romantic, lustful, obsessive, whatever. The answer to the question of what the story is about will give you the first part of your premise. What happens to the character, as a result, will give you the rest of it. In a story of obsessive love, say, the love becomes overbearing to the protagonist's lover and the protagonist loses her in the end and kills himself. Obsessive love leads to suicide is the premise of the story."

It's a meaty couple of chapters, and for me to do it justice I'd have to copy it out verbatim. Frey shows you how to step-by-step "prove" your premise, and the hard questions to ask ("are there ironies and surprises? Do characters grow and develop?") to see if the premise works and thus whether the story is worth writing.

Please get your hands on this book to see Frey's "premise-making" in action. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

And now, totally off topic.... Do you remember me writing last month about the competition to find TV's greatest Dad? Well they're down to the last two, one of whom is a dark horse. If you want to vote for the winner, you can find all the shenanigans at The World’s Greatest TV Dad.

1 comment:

  1. I like this idea of "proving the premise"--it's really a test of how compelling the ideas are, and how consistent. Thanks for sharing this part of Frey's book!


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