Let me tell you a story about Jack. Not Jack and the Beanstalk or Jack and Jill, but Jack and the Premise That Got Away.
Once upon a time, Jack was walking through the forest, minding his own business, when a premise jumped out at him. It was dark and deep, and demanded that he take it along.
Eyes wide with wonder, Jack agreed, his mind racing with so many thoughts about how to deal with this attention-grabbing premise he'd found. Finally, he decided to talk with it: to try to understand not just what it was but who and why it was, as well as how and where it could go.
For many, many steps, Jack explored this premise’s world. He found out about its circus past, its sorrow at losing that life and its inability to deal with the existence now forced on it.
It had potential, Jack knew, to be something great.
But then it stopped to take a rest, and Jack just wasn’t willing to wait for it. He couldn’t. Not for as long as it wanted him to.
So he moved on. And the premise did not.
Our story above is clearly something of a tragedy.
On the one hand, Jack was practicing his craft by “walking” (i.e., writing) with the premise as long as he did. He was exercising his abilities and, no doubt, learning valuable lessons along the way – whether he recognized them at the time or not.
He also got the opportunity to see something every writer needs to realize. That just because a premise is dark and deep and demanding doesn’t mean it’s going to go the distance.
That’s a valuable lesson.
It’s just always nicer to learn such lessons before you take too many steps with a premise that’s going to fail. Which is what our Writing Rule below tries to capture.
Premises need to be personal.
You can obviously get away with writing a paper you don’t care about. And perhaps you can get away with writing nonfiction you’re not passionate about too. But that’s just not true with fictional pieces like a novel.
When you care about a premise, you’re much more likely to see it through. Plus, your readers will be much more likely to positively respond to that passion. With that in mind, before you start your story, make sure you care enough about it to “put a ring on it,” as it were.
If that sounds cheesy, consider all the time you’re going to spend with it, trying to figure it out.
It really is like a relationship. In which case, is it worth it to just fool around?
To keep playing with the dating theme, it’s true that some relationships just aren’t meant to be.
Maybe it’s them, not you. Maybe it’s you, not them. And sometimes they get away no matter how much you’d prefer otherwise.
But you’ve got a much better chance of finding “the one” when you don’t let yourself run after every premise that sashays or struts your way.
Not to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with a sashaying or strutting premise. For that matter, deep, dark and demanding ones might be just right for you too.
Everyone has a type, and that’s fine for the most part… just as long as you try to look beyond the immediate visual appeal.
Does it have any depth to it? Is there a deeper attraction going on beyond, “Wow, that looks good!”
Think about it before you start to write about it. Otherwise, like Jack and the Premise That Got Away… you might be starting something you can’t finish.