Premise: A Checklist

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons & karindalziel.

Last spring when I was taking my workshop in novel writing, one of our required books was “Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass. As you’d expect, there’s a chapter about premis. A premise involves any single moment, feeling, or image that has enough power to set a story on fire and keep it going.

At the end of the chapter (at the end of every chapter, actually), Maass has a checklist. Because the premise in your writing is such an important part of the writing process, I wanted to post it here. Not everyone has read the book (I do recommend picking it up), and the checklist is an important one.

BREAKOUT Checklist:

  • A breakout premise can be built.
  • Your favorite novels sweep you away, have characters you cannot forget, and involve dramatic and meaningful events.
  • A breakout premise has plausibility, inherent conflict, originality and gut emotional appeal.
  • Plausibility means that the story could happen to any of us.
  • Inherent conflict means problems in your “place.”
  • Originality can be new angles on old stories, the opposite of what we expect or story elements in unexpected combinations.
  • Gut emotional appeal springs from the emotional situations that grab us in life.
  • Even an unlikely starting point can be built into a breakout premise.
  • To brainstorm a breakout premise, steer away from the obvious, seek inherent conflict, fund gut emotional appeal and ask, “What if…?”

[Was this post helpful? Would you like to see more of these checklists in the future? How do you raise the stakes in your own writing? Let’s discuss it in the comments!]

Happy Writing!

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