Sunday, July 13, 2008

Writing Lessons- Premise and Theme


Every book starts with an idea. Nothing more that a nebulous thought that could be two stick figures in a setting performing certain actions. I've even spoken with authors for whom a catchphrase or book title popped into their head and it was from that point that they began. By whatever method the inspiration arrived, to get a book written you start with a premise.

Let's define a premise and its sister, the theme, first.

A premise is a short description of the events of the story that includes character, situation, and conflict.

A theme is the overall "moral" or idea you are trying to convey. "And the moral of the story is..." or perhaps a simple lesson learned. Many authors use their catchphrase here, or a quote from Bartlett's.

If you are familiar with the GMC chart so prevalent in the industry at the time of this writing, then the Premise is the condensed External Conflict, and the Theme is the condensed Internal Conflict of your main POV character.

To use the example of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, the premise was: A tornado brought Dorothy to the magical Land of Oz. She must travel to the wizard to ask to be sent home, but the witch wants the ruby slippers off Dorothy's feet, even if she must kill Dorothy to get them. The theme was that Dorothy had to find happiness and acceptance within herself.

I highly recommend using these five steps, provided to me by author Sharon Mignerey, to create a coherent premise:

1) A character 2) in a situation 3) wants something- a goal, desire, or objective 4) and there stands in the way of that "want" an obstacle- a villain, a situation, or antagonist 5) which can result in some sort of catastrophe if the "want" is not achieved.

The theme is discovered when you, the author, decide what the character must learn while they achieve their desires. During any given conflict, large or small, something is learned and the person grows in spirit.

As a last resort, if you cannot think of something, pull out any good quotation book from the library. My quotation book is labeled by category. I turn to the appropriate categories and read until I find something that fits my still-nebulous character's desires. I post that quotation on the bottom of my monitor to remind me of the overall learning process so that I incorporate that lesson as I go along.

Fill out the Theme and Premise below, to remind you.
1) Character- ________________________________________________

2) Situation- ________________________________________________

3) Want- ___________________________________________________

4) Obstacle- _________________________________________________

5) Catastrophe- ______________________________________________





Remember that you do not need a name, only a character. I recommend using a descriptive such as a job, gender, race, or any other clear noun, coupled with an adjective. Examples could be: "Lonely vampire," "orphaned thief," "outcast teen," or "curious ex-cop." Keep it simple at this time, and remember you may always revise as you get a clearer idea of the story.

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