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Welcome to week two of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays. In case you haven't heard, I am taking you all through my process of writing a book, one week at a time. I'll be posting my book over on my author website (click here to subscribe to chapters), so you can read along, if you'd like. This series will end in a BIG contest, opening at the end of August. For information on the contest, see #WeWriteBooks Post 1.
Today's Topic: PremiseLast week we picked a genre. THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA. Today we are going to talk about premise. When I start thinking about a new story idea, it's usually the premise that draws me in, even more than the genre. If you remember, I first brainstormed what became By Darkness Hid in a science fiction storyworld. At the time, it didn't ultimately matter to me where I set the story. It was the premise that had captured my creative juices. I really wanted to write about Amnesia Guy!
As I mentioned in the first post, the Go Teen Writers archives are extensive. We have talked about premise many times before on this blog. One of the best posts overall I found on this topic is one Stephanie wrote called 4 Questions To Ask Before You Write That Story. I highly recommend you look it over. Also, below is a list of several more posts on the topic of premise that might help you if you're stuck. If you don't want to look at all those links right now, skip over them and come back to read some later.
Posts on coming up with new ideas:
4 Questions To Ask Before You Write That Story (Steph's awesome post I mentioned above.)
How To Come Up With A High Concept Pitch
What Is A Logline And How Do You Write One?
10 Story Models That Will Change The Way Your Brainstorm
James Scott Bell Shares His Process For Brainstorming A New Story
5 Places Ideas Come From
What Do I Write Next?
Posts on troubleshooting new ideas:
How Do I Make Sure I'm Being Original In My Writing?
3 Reasons Why That Idea Isn't Working
How Do You Know If Your Story idea is THE IDEA?
How To Get In The Way Of Good Ideas
When I'm brainstorming a new book, I look for a premise that excites me. For something I could build a cool storyworld around. But ultimately, the most important thing I need to know is: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care?
The premise for THIRST came to me while brainstorming and plotting out The Safe Lands series. Originally, The Safe Lands was going to be a fantasy series about a land with a disease, but since dystopian was popular, and my publisher wanted to see dystopian stories, I played around with putting The Safe Lands on earth. And as I set about building the storyworld for that future dystopia, I kept coming up against questions as to what happened "way back when" that caused this bad future. Since the story was now bordering on science fiction, I needed the science to be plausible (which always hurts my brain). So I took some time to research and ask science-minded people for help. I discovered that if I wanted a disease as my problem, the fastest way to spread it around the world would be through drinking water. That got me thinking about the ancestors of my dystopian heroes. Who were they? How did they end up living outside the Safe Lands walls? (Click here to see the map from my dystopian story.)
The next thing I knew, I started writing THIRST, just to understand what happened in the past so I could better set up my future dystopia. It was a strange experience, especially when my agent told me that my publisher wanted to see sample chapters from both. In one book I was writing about a teenage Eli. In the other book, Eli was over ninety years old!
All this to explain that sometimes a premise comes about in an unconventional way. I wasn't sitting around watching the rain, thinking, "What if a disease in the water mostly wiped out the population of earth?" Instead, THIRST came out of my seeking the origins of another world. (Incidentally, the premise for The Kinsman Chronicles also began that way. Perhaps I'm starting a trend for myself...)
Regardless of where your idea came from, you need to refine it before you're ready for the next step. You need to be able to say: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care? For THIRST I started out with:
An apocalypse happens to teenage Eli McShane.
That was okay to start, but I needed to know more to have enough to build a story. I like to build on an idea by asking questions. Some natural questions that arose when looking at the above premise were:
-What kind of apocalypse?
-How does Eli manage to live through it?
-(Because I'm setting up the dystopian Safe Lands world) How does Eli end up in Colorado?
With that in mind, I put in more time brainstorming the premise, and I came up with this. (I color-coded it as: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care?)
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.
It's no stellar back cover copy, but I now have my WHAT, my WHO, and my WHY does the reader care? (And the reader cares because the reader wants the hero to survive!)
Today's assignment is to answer this for your story: WHAT happens to WHO and WHY does the reader care? Post your answer in the comment section, and if you're stuck, ask for help and I'll brainstorm with you and maybe ask you some questions that could help you narrow things down a bit.
Also, last week I got so excited about the start of #WeWriteBooks that I forgot to announce that The Heir War released! If you've read Darkness Reigns, be sure to check out part two. And if you haven't read Darkness Reigns, check it out. It's free.