How do writers know which story premises to run with when there are so many of them to choose from? If you’re an author or author-in-the-making, then you have to ask yourself that question all the time, since life is full of so many potential story prompts.
Just last night, for one, I was sitting all alone in the house in a back room. It was 7:16 when, all of a sudden, something got brighter.
I have to say “something,” because I honestly have no clue what it was. Maybe it was my cell phone next to me being random. Maybe it was the light across from me kicking it up a notch or the light down the hallway or the air conditioner right next to me somehow. It might have even been my brain that brightened up a wee bit, which would have been nice considering how I felt like I was in a fog all day long.
All those possibilities ran through my mind. But so did the chance that I wasn’t as alone in the house as I’d been thinking. So I called out, “Hello,” in case someone I knew and loved had come home without me hearing it.
There was no response.
The silence prompted me to get up and walk down the hallway to the kitchen, where everything seemed to be in order. My first thought was to check the front door, which was still locked. The back door wasn’t, but it’s such a junked-up wreck that it only opens with the greatest of difficulties and noises. So that didn’t worry me one bit.
But then I noticed the plastic sheath of cookies on the counter, and my whole body froze. Because there were three cookies in that container. And I was absolutely certain there had been four before.
It took me two seconds to realize that I was just standing at a bad angle. There was indeed a fourth cookie there, and I was indeed alone in the house.
But what if I wasn’t?
That would make for a great narrative hook there! I mean, where would the story go?
Would I turn around to find an alien with three eyes telling me I’d been chosen? Would a vampire be waiting to sink its teeth into my neck even though I didn’t remember inviting it in? Or would it be my best friend trying to surprise me while accidentally scaring me to death?
There are so many different directions that premise could take. So many ways I could expand on that hook and build up a narrative. Yet I’m never going to know since I’m never going to pursue it.
This real-life story prompt captures my imagination. It just doesn’t capture it enough.
That’s what it really comes down to. There’s no science to spout here. No artistic hierarchy or philosophical structure to build off of.
As a writer, when a story premise stares you in the face and screams, “Boo!” or goes, “Ooh la la,” or whispers something mysterious into your ear, daring you to come along, it all depends on how convincing you find it.
So writers, which story premises should you ditch and which ones should you run with?
I don’t know. You tell me.