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"As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move...similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle."~Honore de Balzac

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Heart of the Matter

Okay, let's get to the heart of the matter or, in other words, the premise.

What exactly is premise?

Some writing instructors call it theme or thesis or the root or central idea, the goal or driving force in story, the whole purpose, the fundamental emotion, the plot.

Every story has a premise. A good premise is actually a thumbnail synopsis. Without a premise, the writer elaborates, modifies, goes off in different directions, changes situations and winds up not knowing where she's going. As the author, you must have a premise that leads to the goal in your story. The premise is the heart of the matter.

Shakespeare knew this. Romeo and Juliet is centered on love, great love, but the lovers are thwarted by the family feud. In the end the star-crossed lovers reunite in death. Therefore, the premise is great love defies even death.

Jealously is the theme in Othello and the motivating force. Othello kills not only Desdemona but himself so the premise is jealousy destroys itself and the object of its love.

There's no right or wrong premise. You as the author decide what it will be and this will help you avoid wandering off into situations or scenes that do not move your story toward the ultimate goal.

Here are some premises to help you get started: Intolerance leads to isolation. Foolish generosity leads to poverty. Bragging leads to humiliation.Extravagance leads to destitution. Faith conquers fear.Jealousy destroys not only itself but the object of its love. Friendship saves the isolated. Great love defies even death.

Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men, surely had a premise in mind when he wrote the story. It might have been evil cannot be overcome by goodness or it might have been even evil has a code of ethics or it might have been evil is always in the world. As you can see, there can be more than one way to state a premise. The more specific and close to the point your premise, the more focused you will be.

To get really simple, what about The Three Little Pigs. What is the premise of that story? It might be lazy pigs get eaten alive or it might be hard-working pigs survive or it might be a pig who builds a firm foundation does better than other pigs.

Start with an idea and convert it to a premise. Look at the situation in your story and figure out the main goal. Analyze stories and plays and even movies you like and figure out the premise. What is at stake? What is the story really about? Get to the heart of the matter right away and it will help focus your writing.

1 comment:

KayCreates said...

Great post, MaryAnn. Awesome job with the breakdown of the concept of premise and the supporting examples.

When do the Saturday meetings start this year?