The Three Types of Premise

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The Three Types of Premises

Traci Kenworth

 

As stated in How to Write a Damn Good Novel by James N. Frey, premise is a statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict of the story. Today, we’re going to discuss 3 types.

Type 1: Chain Reaction: This is simply a series of events that blast the character toward the finale. For instance: Darla, out on shopping rounds, finds an envelope of money with no identification to the owner (or perhaps there is and she’s just not saying), and no one but her conscious to tell her what to do. So she keeps the money, spends it even. Later, she learns of a young couple with a three-year-old daughter who has cancer lost their money at the store and is unable to pay for their daughter’s treatments. She is torn between what to do. Should she return the funds from her own pocket book, ignore the situation entirely, or admit that she took it and has no way to replace the money? The answer to this puzzle is the climax or solution. Let’s take this one step further and suppose that $5.00 from that envelope landed Darla the winning lottery ticket/ Now what is her dilemma? Will she make the “right” choice?

Type 2: The opposing forces: Love vs. hate. Wealth vs. poverty. Death vs. life. An example may be: a man of Biblical principles, in applying them to his life, finds himself challenged by the very things he believes. When a woman and her children enter his life under a false set of circumstances, he must decide whether to turn them in, part ways, or help them the best he can. Let’s say he learns she stole to provide for her children, he knows the family she stole from, and his conscious impresses upon him to expose her for the crime. And yet, his heart is at war because she did so to feed her children, to keep them off the streets, to give them a chance in life. Which set of values will win out? Will compassion cause him to cover for her and help her to get a new start? Will they all become, in turn, a new family?

Type 3: The Situational Premise: This is where the same problem affects all of the characters in the story. Example: Each character searches for an anchor. It destroys some, but saves others. This type can easily become a snag if the story becomes too convoluted. Because each might have their own story, you could end up telling too much of one’s and not enough of another’s. Your main protagonists become less. The story has to be cut carefully, set into type just so, if it is blossom into a beautiful tale. The story is Bill’s and Andi’s not the entire cast. That’s not to say the story doesn’t apply to all the characters, it just has to be more Bill’s and Andi’s than the town of Montville.

So how do you handle the above types of premises? I find most of my stories to fall under the situational premise. I just love to bring a problem to a town and drop it in everyone’s laps. Of course, my hero and heroine who have the most to suffer must embrace their strengths and bring about the downfall of the villain/disaster. It’s a tricky balance to keep your minor characters just that, but in the end, the story shines because of it.

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30 thoughts on “The Three Types of Premise

  1. I love the title of Frey’s book! lol I haven’t read it, yet, but it sounds interesting. I’d never really thought about the types of premises of a story before, only the genre. It makes me look at my own work a little differently. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  2. I like how you broke down the three types of premises. I enjoyed reading your examples of each. My first four books fall under the opposing forces and the situational premises. I would like to try my hand at the chain reaction premise sometime.

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  3. I tend to write situational stories more than anything else. I should really try to branch out and try something different.

    This is an excellent post. I’ll have to investigate the book by Mr. Frey. I haven’t read it. I’ll check it out from the library. Thanks for the advice and a new source of information.

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  4. shouldn’t a good story involve all three in one way or another? Everything is a chain reaction because for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and plot, by nature is composed of action and movement. To have any good story you must have strong opposing forces (I believe the term is “Unity of Opposites”) and shouldn’t the problem affect all the characters? Why would there be an inclusion of a character who is not affected by the plot in one way or another?

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  5. My book-length WiP is situational. The short story I’m working on this week involves opposing forces (man vs. woman? I guess?). I love the idea of the chain reaction, but I find it tricky to pull off. I often end up with something like a nuclear explosion on my hands. Those are tricky to clean up after.

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    1. Lol–chain reactions can be just like that, you’re right. Basically, it boils down to “something happening to the character and they set about finding a way out.” Not necessarily the right way, mind you. It’s like doing a crossword puzzle and fitting all the pieces in place. You might not like how it ends, it just may turn everything inside out.

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    1. To me, I look at them as a somewhat “graduation” of sorts. We start out writing “chain reactions,” middle school brings the “opposing forces,” and we graduate knowing about “situational.” And as Sick Boy suggested, combining the three into a story might just be the way to go to college.

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  6. Most of my work seems to be situational, but the one I might actually finish revising is definitely a chain reaction. Maybe i just needed a change of pace 🙂

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  7. Very interesting, Traci. To be honest, I don’t know what kind I write. Someone would probably have to analyze it for me. If I had to make a guess, I’d guess its a mix?? You gave me something to think about.

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  9. Thank you for posting this. I write but there is still a lot of things that I don’t know what to call or have definitions for. I guess I’m writing by the seat of my pants but I’m learing so much along the way.

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  10. What a terrific post. I’m tucking it into my writing file of writing lessons from the learned. I’m sure it will come in handy with the monumental tasks of editing and revising.
    Many thanks for the sage words!

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  11. Good points. Looking at my stories I guess there are elements of situational, but my thillers are definitely mostly chain reaction. The characters take the wrong decision at some point and they end up in a good deal of trouble. My YA story is based around opposing forces, and the series I’m writing on at the moment has as it basis also opposing forces situation. Thanks for the points. It got me thinking.

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  12. I’m partial to the situational premise myself. It’s popular in crime fiction, as you know. I love to wreak havoc in little country towns or let evil reign in the desolate parts of cities. Ahem. I mean… my antagonists do. 🙂

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  13. Are you on Twitter? When I share your posts it says @wordpress.com. If you are, what’s your handle? If we haven’t already connected there I’d like to. Mine is @SueColetta1. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend, if you celebrate!

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  14. I think mine start as a chain reaction that turns into situational (all of these people are together only, originally, because of one and her decisions, but those decisions end up having enormous consequences, partially just by bringing the disparate others together). And each of the four main characters’ arcs are similiar to the opposing forces idea. I’ve been dealing with the complications of that for a while now. Luckily, it’s going to be a trilogy, so there should be time/space to work it out.

    Wonderful breakdown, thank you!

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