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Monday, March 12, 2012

Plotting and the Premise

Please welcome guest blogger Gail Gaymer Martin

Plotting is what creates the action in your novel. The technique varies. Some people are what writers call Pantsters or SOTP (writing from the seat of their pants) while some writers create an outline or synopsis. Often the outline or synopsis is sketchy, leaving openings to take interesting detours on the character’s journey. This allows creativity without being tied to a pre-proposed plot. No matter what kind of writer you are, one element that happens early in the story planning is called creating the premise. A premise is the core of the novel—what it’s about and the dramatic issues that move it to its ending. A premise also forms assumptions for readers. From the way you build your story, readers presume the story will follow a logical pattern, so authors can be assured that readers have expectations.

The readers expectations are based on their past experiences. Let’s say, a man and woman decide to marry on an exotic island. Readers assume the novel will contain a wedding and a trip to an island, probably romantic, possibly humorous. If a book opens with a man lifting the lid of his trunk and finding a dead body, the reader assumes he will contact the police and the story will be the pursuit of the killer and perhaps why the body was in this man’s car. Consider your personal assumptions when you hear the premise of a novel or movie.

A premise begins with the central story idea.  Something is going to happen. For example, what happens if someone left a baby on your doorstep? What would happen if you received a letter saying you are the heir to your great uncle’s fortune? What would happen if you won a multi-million dollar lottery? What would happen if the woman you loved asked you to marry her only for convenience? You could come up with a hundred ifs.
                    . . .if your dog dug up a human arm in your back woods?
                    . . .if you found an old map in your attic?
                    . . .if you learned as an adult you had a biological mother who gave you away?
                    . . .if you were accused of murder without an alibi?
                    . . .if your husband vanished coming home from work?
                    . . .if you fell in love with a prisoner?
                    . . .if you were asked to work undercover?
Here are some movies you may have seen that offer a unique premise.
                    . . .if people were unable to lie.  Invention of Lying
                    . . .if four men on an overnight stag party forget what happened.   Hangover
                    . . .if an abused pregnant teen decides her life must change.     Precious
This list could go on eternally, but this premise list is a sample of many creative “what ifs”. The premise is the central idea that you will use to build your story.

Authors, though, want their novels to be unique and different, not just the standard premises that are sometimes overused. By creating a premise with a traditional expectation and twisting it, you come up with a more original story. What if. . .
                    the person who falls in love with the prisoner is a man and not a woman?
                    the body in the trunk looks identical to the man who found it?

                    the map in the attic leads to a place vaguely recalled from childhood where something happened but the person had blocked it from his memory?
                    the body found in the woods is the person’s former spouse?

By twisting the premise, you open new doors and make your novel more original. Look at your WIP’s premise and ask yourself how you can give it an unexpected twist. How can you make it more original? How can you add something that will surprise your readers? A unique premise is one way you can add a spark to your story that will linger with readers long after they’ve read your novel.

To learn more about plotting techniques, please join Gail Gaymer Martin for a three week online workshop—Plodding or Plotting?—from April 9 to April 29 sponsored by the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal, a chapter of RWA.

For more information about me, visit www.gailmartin.com and for more information about Writing Fiction Right visit my blog at www.writingright-martin.blogspot.com.  You can also find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1429640580

I also invite you to look for A DREAM OF HIS OWN a Love Inspired June release in stores the last week of May.

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