On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Premise or Story

During my fiction coaching, when I first meet with someone they may have a great idea:

“I want to write about this little old church lady who loves gambling in Las Vegas.”
“I want to write about a dog who has human intelligence and can be a spy.”
“I want to write about a special book that gives personal messages to people.”

And I always sit back and say, “OK. Now tell me about your story.”

There is usually a notable silence

Most people starting out, I find, don’t understand the difference between a premise and a story, yet this is critical. The PREMISE describes some circumstance, or person, or other interesting thought, on which a story might be based.

The STORY, on the other hand, describes a concrete arc of events and so forth that describe a specific journey and life-lesson of one particular person, fighting particular obstacles in order to achieve a particular goal.

The first exercises I usually give to a new person are for them to describe what, exactly, the main character is trying to achieve. This thing must be specific and clearly answered with a yes or no. Then, I wonder why the main character wants to achieve this thing? What horrible things might happen if he doesn’t get this? Then, who is the main character competing with in order to get this specific thing?

Finally, I like to know what are the specific problems that the main character may encounter on his way to achieving this goal?

These questions usually take the person a week or so to work through. They sound basic, but without these answers the person is dealing with a premise – an interesting thought – rather than a story.

To recap, here are the questions to ask:

PREMISE: who is your main character? Does he have an interesting background?
GOAL: what is your main character trying to achieve in THIS story?
STAKES: what will happen if your main character is not able to achieve this goal?
ANTAGONIST: who is the chief person standing in the way of your main character? Why is the antagonist blocking the main protagonist?
OBSTACLES: what problems might the main character face as he goes about achieving the story goal?

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