Literary Liaisons

A blog about writing and all things story…

What is a Story Premise?

It was Donald Maass of Maass Literary Agency who (Unknowingly) revealed to me that I didn’t have a clue how to write a novel. That was about 10 years ago in a week long novel writing workshop in Vancouver BC. I went home from that workshop, chucked my novel in the trash and began my quest for knowledge.

Since then, I’ve read several books on craft, attended at least 25 writer’s conferences, attended numerous classes and workshops and have written two other novels, various short stories and am only beginning to feel like I have a clue. But, at least now my eyes don’t gloss over and my hands don’t get all sweaty when someone asks; what’s the story premise, what archetype is your main protagonist or what’s the myth base, or theme, and so on. 
I’ve said many times in my blog that writing is a lifelong apprenticeship, and I mean it. Nevertheless, I see no better way to spend my life.
So what is premise? In case you missed it, and I’m fairly certain you did, I wanted to point out the short article about writing a novel with breakout premise that was picked up by my Lit-Liaiz Writer’s Newspaperyes, I have a newspaper. The article also ran a week or so ago in Writer’s Digest.
Excerpt from chapter one of The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass. Learn about premise in this excerpt.
It could be the cold bright light of a November afternoon, the feel of a black-edged telegram in a mother’s hand, the putrid smell of a week-old corpse in the trunk of a BMW, a woman’s sworn oath before God that she will never go hungry again. In short, a premise is any single image, moment, feeling, or belief that has enough power and personal meaning for the author to set her story on fire, and propel it like a rocket for hundreds of pages.  ….

What resonated with me in this excerpt is that the premise for both my main projects; Theo’s Parabellum and Esmee’s Letters, began with an image. Theo’s Parabellum began with a haunting image my brother Clark drew many years ago. It spoke to me and begged for its story to be told. It’s this old, now grainy picture here of the man walking in snow.
And Esmee’s letters began with a box of yellowed letters I saw once, clutched to the breast of an elderly woman, a holocaust survivor, who was dressed in black and sobbing at a graveside. I didn’t know her story, but created one to fit that unforgettable image.

Where did your novel/story start? What’s your premise? Is there an image that lingers in your memory for which you can create a story? So many images, so many stories, so little time….
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One comment on “What is a Story Premise?

  1. Stephen Hayes
    September 20, 2012

    I've spent time with Donald Maass. I'm fully recovered now. But he does know a lot about writing.

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2012 by in Donald Maass, story premise.
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