The Three Types of Premises
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.