A premise is the blurb on the inside cover of a book that entices you to start reading – the snippet that tells the reader what they’re about to read, and realistically, the little bit of information you tell other people when they ask what you’re writing.
Very few of us have the luxury of being able to hide away in a country cabin while we produce the best piece of fiction ever written, and even if you’re not giving your novel to others to read, you will probably be talking about it. In reaching for the blurb, I have a tendency to go for one of my personal writing methods.
Everyone has their own ways, but the following are what work for me when I don’t already know the story I want to tell:
- Question Method – Frame your story as an answer to a hypothetical question. Tends to be more exploratory than the other methods, as it purposely looks for ideas outside status quo. Stereotypically the ‘what if’ kind, like “What if our language has no concept past tense” (which I don’t know how that works as a story), or “What if I had a better example?” It can also take a question less binary, along the lines of a Twilight Zone episode. Consider if you will, a world where the structure of the dandelion seed-head is used as the basis for artificial neurons – and something bad happens.
- Elements Method – Create a list of random elements. Find tangible links between the elements. Find a potential story. The key to this one is building a setting and a character, potentially finding something wonderful. So, one element is a Dandelion. Then let’s add to that – motor oil, “It isn’t what it looks like”, furbies, the assault on the death star, and Space Jam. Erm. Suzie falls in love with the alien high commander, whose army is infiltrating the earth by pretending to be toys, so it can steal all the dandelions and convert them into fuel for a giant space station. Nailed it. Yeah, this is my force-it method, when I can’t rely on inspiration. Sometimes it will be music, or scenes from a movie, or characters – as well as the types of things above.
- Ring Method – Create a set of characters. Put some in conflict with one another, and others in cahoots. The characters tend to start as rough archetypes, such as The Scientist, The Marauder, or The Dancer. Then you draw a line between them to work out who’s causing problems for who. Then you work out why. This is a very character-focused approach. Dandelion link for this? Gawds… um. Marauder is allergic to them, Scientist is using them to develop a vaccine, and Dancer grows them. So Marauder wants to get cosy with the Dancer, who doesn’t trust the scientist he’s selling them to, and she has a beef with the Marauder because of… family.
- Nugget Method – This one’s new, and best of all, simple. It’s about finding a smaller story, though the line between story and scene blurs here. Create a character. Put them somewhere where they shouldn’t be. Have them be caught. A world-famous pie maker is in a museum after-hours, trying to steal an antique recipe for Dandelion Pie, when the alarm goes off.
Do you have a story idea out of all these? You ought to have something at least. It could just be a concept, or a feeling about the sort of story you wish to have.
The Short Version:
If you don’t have an idea, these are my personal methods for constructing one. You only need one method to get an idea, and hopefully one that captures your imagination.
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