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  1. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    The premise

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Alex Brandt, May 2, 2017.

    Has anybody read Donald Maass's Writing the Breakout Novel? The second chapter is about writing a great premise, and I'm thinking mine could use some work. As I understand it, it's kind of like the back cover of the book. Mine is:

    Edit thanks to @OJB: A criminal who thinks only of himself has to protect the world from the apocalyspse.

    Original: A criminal who has always taken the easy way out, and has never trusted anybody, must rise to become a powerful mage and protect the world from the Apocalypse. While he is intelligent and given many benefits in life, he eschewed them and blamed others for his faults. When his new friends and protectors are attacked by the forces of the Horseman of Pestilence, he is forced to accept his role in his own lousy life. Along the way he will be forced to grow up as he's dragged through the savage, cunning and magical world that he never knew was right in front of him.

    I have four questions regarding this.
    1. Did I get the Maass' definition of premise correct?
    2. Are you interested in my premise?
    3. Does it contain Maass's points (Plausibility(as far as fantasy can go), Inherent Conflict, Originality, and a Gut Emotional appeal)?
    4. What are great premises you have?
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2017
  2. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    No.

    I don't know.

    No. It's way too cliche.

    How about just writing something you would want to read instead of throwing around slogans?

    Invasion of the cat people.
     
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  3. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    What slogans? Do you mean the lessons from the book?
     
  4. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Hello Alex,

    I have read Donald Maass' book, his and Sol Stien's 'On Writing' are two books I suggest to people who have a finished a draft but want to improve it.

    As for your premise, you need a to reword it in order to bring out the irony (inherent conflict as Maass would call it) a bit clear.

    Just to give you an example based off of your idea: 'A criminal, who doesn't care about anyone but himself, is forced to protect the world from the apocalypse.'

    Do you see the Irony in the above statement? This Irony is what gives rise to inherent conflict.

    -

    How about you realize this person is trying to apply advice from one of the top literary agents in the world in order to improve his writing? And that anyone that studies literature and writing would understand what he is asking about and saying.
     
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  5. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    Ah! Thank you so much! So it's only one sentence? The example he gives in the book (about the kid in the wheelchair) is like a paragraph long.
     
  6. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    1/ No.
    2/ 1. Don't know, but I think it's probably less than the back cover blurb. It's more along the lines of...what would happen if a girl from an ethnic group that regards a woman as something that gets married and produces children won a place at a university on another planet, and on the way her spaceship got hi-jacked? Or, in your case, what would happen when a low-life gets forced to battle the four horsemen of the Apocalypse?

    The first example is, as far as I can make out, the premise of a Hugo and Nebula award-winning novella. And leaves me wondering how she got enough of an education to pass the exams; and how she even got to know about them...and whether the awards were because of the ethnic minority vote...

    2/ 2. Your example leaves something to be desired, in that you haven't given any reason why your MC "...must rise to become a powerful mage...". Nor have you given him much of an "active protagonist" vibe...he "must rise...", he "will be forced to grow up"... And, with this notion of "being forced to grow up", you've written him (IMO) as a moody teenager, which is at odds with the "criminal who has always taken the easy way out".

    2/ 3. No to Plausibility - Why is he the Chosen One? Yes to Inherent Conflict. No to Originality. No to Gut Emotional appeal.
    2/ 4. I don't know if anybody would consider it great, but...What if the son of a powerful lord believed that he was destined to rule, but in fact suffered from mental illness?
     
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  7. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I think that's a really compelling logline. I don't read how-to-write books so I don't know if it fits Maass' premise guidelines, but it's certainly intriguing.
     
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  8. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    Yeah, I'm struggling quite a bit with that. I've found that most criminals are actually moody teenagers in adult bodies. I work in adult corrections with "big, scary felons," but I feel like I'm actually working with children every single day who cry and punch things when they don't get their way. This would be a reprehensible MC, and I'm struggling to find a balance.
     
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  9. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    One book that sticks in my mind had an MC who was a career criminal, who ends the book dying in a shoot-out with the police, and you're rooting for him.

    Why? Because, using first-person POV, you got to see his motivations; and they weren't just harming others and helping himself. He is actually trying to get justice for his partner, a big guy who can't speak and gets tortured to death because of this...his captors don't know he's literally speechless, just assume he's taking the "We don't squeal" motto to the grave.

    Give your MC something he cares about more than himself, something he'd (almost) literally die for; and find a way to bleed it to the reader. Or, like in (I think) the biographical film McVicar, give him an epiphany.

    And give him a bit more get-up-and-go; have him make things happen a bit more.
     
  10. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    I agree.
    I'm currently reading Maass' The Fire in Fiction, and it too is essential reading.
     
  11. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    It's not the length that is important, but the parts that make up a logline/summary/synopsis. I prefer shorter loglines as they are easier to digest, but there is no hard-set rule about how long (or short) it has to be.

    Note: I'd like to note that some teachers want a logline/synopsis shorter than 25 words. This is not because shorter is better, but because some people try to jam as much backstory and subplots into their synopsis as possible.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2017
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  12. Megs33

    Megs33 Active Member

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    i think you need to come up with a way to make your MC less of a perceived deadbeat with a chip on his shoulder and more of a misunderstood guy who has taken some blows in his life and is sick of trying. if he lives his life always taking the easy way out, that means he feels there's no sense in following the rules because the rules haven't done him any favors. consider his backstory, being a teenager who was always treated like some delinquent who was up to no good. maybe he comes from a family where his dad has been in jail his whole life and his mom's a drunk. being looked down upon and scorned when he's just doing the best he can would wear on him over time, until finally he reaches a point where he just had to say "you know what? screw it." why bother doing things the hard way when the hard way doesn't produce results any better than the easy way? and the easy way is what everyone expects, so he may as well be what everyone expects of him and move on.

    that would segue nicely in to a transformation throughout his story. maybe he starts out ticked off that he's been roped in to all this insanity and is looking for a way to slip his responsibility, and then by the end he understands that he needs to become better in order to protect the things/people he has come to care for.

    that offers emotional appeal to me; a hard-as-nails guy full of acidic comments while shirking responsibility gets roped in to a situation outside of his control against his will; suddenly he can't just weasel away, and we are introduced to the inner turmoil that he usually runs from. this conflict chips away at his walls and forces him to become something better by the end.
     
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  13. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    Wow! That is fantastic advice, thanks Megs!! I will definitely use that.
    I was going to go with a slight twist on his backstory: He's actually very privledged and his parents did try but they were just bad/selfish and so he took off on his own, claiming they were deadbeats, because that's easier to understand.
     
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  14. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    bad/selfish?

    It's more likely that the "privilege" he benefitted from was a private education and all the toys he could eat...and negligible "quality time" (I hate that phrase and its implications!) because the parents were too busy making the money to make all this privilege affordable; they did what the American Dream (TM) told them was the right thing to do.

    I worked at a company once where the chairman had built it up from nothing. His son came into the business (something of a "crown prince") but had to learn the ropes...and professed himself jealous of the son of one of the middle management who was showing him said ropes; because father and son actually had a relationship.
     
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  15. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    In a way. The MC's mother works really hard, but she's not motivated out of maternal compassion or wanting to provide for her children, it's for appearances. She's that woman who wants to be praised about everything in her life (based on an ex's mother). Any free time she has is spent at parties or vacations without her son (needing "me time"), and her time with her son is occupied with work. His dad also works hard and cheats on his wife constantly. Unlike the mom, he is extremely emotionally abusive in his mind he does it so that his son will become self reliant. They both look down on the MC for not living up to their example and give up on him by the time he's in his early teens (they hope it's so that he can grow but it just pushes him away). They both mean well, and they financially provide but they are just bad parents for every other aspect of the title.
     
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  16. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    That'll play.

    1/ I've got A Boy Named Sue as an earworm now!
     
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  17. Alex Brandt

    Alex Brandt Member

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    Great! Now I do too!
     
  18. Megs33

    Megs33 Active Member

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    I like it! I can picture that doing unfortunate things to a person's mind over time, which would definitely create the type of person you have in mind.

    Have you read Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children? The MC Jacob comes from parents who are similar to what you describe, although to a lesser degree. Self-absorbed, only interested in appearances, etc. Jacob starts off as a person who is only interested in remaining "safe" and skates along trying to avoid difficult situations. If you haven't read at least the first book I would recommend it to offer a little perspective!
     
  19. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

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    The 'points' you mentioned. I also came off as more of a dickbag in that post than I would have liked, sorry. I just disagree with that philosophy of writing.
     

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