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strengthen your premise; check this out.
Premise in fiction. Your undergrad English professor probably taught you a fancy definition for this concept, but every novelist will tell you this: The premise is the cool thing your book is about.
Simple, right? Like, a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write a novel (Misery by Stephen King). The lives and loves of best friends through the years (Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy). A forbidden love that lasts a lifetime (The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough). A Navy wife whose marriage is in crisis learns her husband is missing at sea (The Ocean Between Us by my favorite author).
In The Art of Dramatic Writing (1977), Lajos Egri (who seems to have been obsessed with the concept of premise) states:
“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there…Every good play must have a well-formulated premise…No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.”
I envy the writer who comes up with fantastic ideas again and again, using the same method–listening to music, going for a drive, staring out the window, reading the paper, brainstorming with a friend.
For me, coming up with a premise is like going shopping without knowing what you’re looking for. “I’ll know it when I find it,” you tell yourself. Figuring out exactly what “it” is can be all-consuming. All I know is that “it” will be the driving force that sends me on the longest walk in the world, every day for the next six months to a year–that deathly commute from the couch to the blank page. So “it” had better be good.
The funny thing is, the harder I try, the more elusive “it” becomes. I think myself into a dither. I fiddle with things. I “what-if” myself into a state of confusion. I go on personal quests in search of the Cool Thing.
Sometimes I get lucky. I might discover it as I take my dog for a walk on the beach. Suddenly, I might think, “a child with Aspergers.” And I’ll think about a writer friend of mine and his sweet son, who has this condition, and its curiously gentling effect on the father. Or I’ll be digging in the garden or Windexing the kitchen, two activities that any writer will tell you have enormous appeal when confronted with a blank page. Maybe “it” will smack me upside the head as I stand at the refrigerator with the door propped open, contemplating the merits of leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast.
Then I’ll have to test the idea in a thousand ways, figuring out what the most compelling elements are. Where will the tension come from? What will the reader see on the page and how will I make myself–and then the reader–happy to be reading it?
For most books, my story premise is cobbled together the way a magpie gathers things for its nest, with a shiny object here, a twisty thread there. At some point, maybe while making a story collage, these seemingly disparate pieces will coalesce into the Great Thing I’ve been seeking, the thing that will consume me through the next year: IT.
How serious am I about nailing the premise of my next book? So serious, we’re having a meeting about it. I’m not kidding. I have a brain trust coming to my house today and we’re going to brainstorm our book premises all day long.
What’s a brain trust? Well, it’s my writers’ group plus the world’s best story consultant, Michael Hauge. Some of you might remember he has a lifelong connection to the place where I live–and I have a rockin’ private guest house. He’s ours for the day. We’re rolling up our sleeves…I’ll report in on our progress. Stay tuned….
nice view, but whats the real story?

nice view, but what’s the real story?

Premise in fiction. Your undergrad English professor probably taught you a fancy definition for this concept, but every novelist will tell you this: The premise is the cool thing your book is about. Simple, right? Like, a crazed fan holds an author hostage and forces him to write a novel (Misery by Stephen King). The lives and loves of best friends through the years (Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy). A forbidden love that lasts a lifetime (The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough). A Navy wife whose marriage is in crisis learns her husband is missing at sea (The Ocean Between Us by my favorite author). In The Art of Dramatic Writing (1977), Lajos Egri (who seems to have been obsessed with the concept of premise) states:

“Everything has a purpose, or premise. Every second of our life has its own premise, whether or not we are conscious of it at the time. That premise may be as simple as breathing or as complex as a vital emotional decision, but it is always there…Every good play must have a well-formulated premise…No idea, and no situation, was ever strong enough to carry you through to its logical conclusion without a clear-cut premise.”

I envy the writer who comes up with fantastic ideas again and again, using the same method–listening to music, going for a drive, staring out the window, reading the paper, brainstorming with a friend. For me, coming up with a premise is like going shopping without knowing what you’re looking for.

“I’ll know it when I find it,” you tell yourself. Figuring out exactly what “it” is can be all-consuming. All I know is that “it” will be the driving force that sends me on the longest walk in the world, every day for the next six months to a year–that deathly commute from the couch to the blank page. So “it” had better be good. The funny thing is, the harder I try, the more elusive “it” becomes. I think myself into a dither. I fiddle with things. I “what-if” myself into a state of confusion. I go on personal quests in search of the Cool Thing.

Sometimes I get lucky. I might discover it as I take my dogs for a walk on the beach. Suddenly, I might think, “a lonely woman who runs a beachside restaurant.” And I’ll think about why she’s lonely, and what it feels like to own a place where marriage proposals happen on a regular basis. Or I’ll be digging in the garden or Windexing the kitchen, two activities that any writer will tell you have enormous appeal when confronted with a blank page. Maybe “it” will smack me upside the head as I stand at the refrigerator with the door propped open, contemplating the merits of leftover mac-and-cheese for breakfast. Aha, I’ll think. How about a struggling young widow and a bazillionaire?

Then I’ll have to test the idea in a thousand ways, figuring out what the most compelling elements are. Where will the tension come from? What will the reader see on the page and how will I make myself–and then the reader–happy to be reading it?

For most books, my story premise is cobbled together the way a magpie gathers things for its nest, with a shiny object here, a twisty thread there. At some point, maybe while making a story collage, these seemingly disparate pieces will coalesce into the Great Thing I’ve been seeking, the thing that will consume me through the next year: IT.

Do you have a favorite story premise to read or write about? Share below! My inquiring mind want to know.

Several friends have sent this link my way, knowing I would totally relate. (Click the link! You’ll thank me!) I had much in common with that child, and the mom is like my mom. She used to let me dictate stories to her:

…until I was old enough to write (and self publish) on my own:

shaped like a person, with roomy pockets

shaped like a person, with roomy pockets

I take a lot of dog walks. It’s good for a) my dog, b) my health, c) my creativity and d) my attitude. Barkis and I walk for miles and sometimes hours without running into a soul. My default outfit was something that made me look like a wino, but ever since my Fashion Epiphany last summer, I’ve been trying to upgrade my Look. And during my Big Emergency last fall, they had to cut off my favorite Patagonia hoodie, so a replacement was needed.

Jay gave me this one–the Carrie–by Ibex. He was really proud of himself: “I knew your size exactly! Medium!” This is as close to knowing my size as he ever gets.

Here’s what’s perfect about it–it’s made of this double-faced New Zealand wool stuff that feels incredible even against bare skin. It has an actual shape (not too apparent in the photo but it’s really flattering). It has pockets that zip, a full front zipper (for ventilation) and two giant inner pockets. On a wilderness dog walk, I need pockets for the cell phone, iPod, training treats, leash and water bottle.

I’m pretty much obsessed with this company. The clothing is made in the USA! Yay! And they have the coolest web site and blog.

I totally love the sound of this. My friend Jen is leading a virtual retreat next weekend – January 16th-19th. Here’s the link to get all the skinny: http://www.comfortretreats.com/ and after signing up, you’ll get this page:
Jennifer is one of the most inspiring people I know. Do something nice for yourself and check it out. You deserve it. 🙂
a lovely way to spend the weekend

a lovely way to spend the weekend

Do you remember the magic of your first book? The first book I ever bought with my own money was Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss. I scrounged up all my pennies, quarties and Kennedy half-dollars and bought it at Thrifty Westie’s in Portville, New York. It’s one of my most vivid memories as a reader. I read that book over and over, memorized stanzas of the bouncy language and slept with it under my pillow.

Give them books...give them wings

Give them books...give them wings

In Salon, Gary Kamiya wrote, “There are certain books that become a permanent part of your life, like an old tree that stands at the bend of a favorite path. You may not notice them, but if they were taken away, the world would be less mysterious, less friendly, less itself. …[I]t is a complete world. And like the old friend that it is, it always welcomes you back.”

Okay, so Yertle the Turtle isn’t War and Peace. Doesn’t matter. It’s the magic that matters. Owning a book gave me wings. That’s why I want every child ever born to have a book of her own. And I’m not alone. Here’s a way to knock out that “OMIGAWD I forgot to get something for Aunt Myrna!” feeling that strikes you as you rush out the door to a family gathering–make a donation to literacy in her honor, print out the acknowledgment and stick it in a pretty card. Here’s the perfect place to donate:

First Book provides new books to children in need addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books. An innovative leader in social enterprise, First Book has distributed more than 60 million free and low cost books to disadvantaged children. First Book now has offices in the U.S. and Canada.

And check it out on Charity Navigator–it gets its highest rating for efficient use of your donation. Do it. Do it now. Give a kid a book–it’s like giving her a set of wings. Trust me on this.

*** CALENDAR ALERT ***SAVE THE DATE

WRITING IN THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
Field’s End Writers’ Conference 2008Photo by s.j. luke, onsetimagery

WHO: This year’s line-up of authors and speakers includes: Roy Blount, Jr. (keynote speaker), Stephanie Kallos (opening speaker), Knute Berger, Alice Acheson, Lyall Bush, Laura Kalpakian, Thomas Kohnstamm, Rosina Lippi aka Sara Donati, Jennifer Louden, Nancy Pagh, George Shannon, Charley Pavlosky, Sheila Rabe aka Sheila Roberts, Suzanne Selfors, David Wagoner, and Timothy Egan (closing speaker). Professional actor Ron Milton will be on hand for the Page One sessions.

WHAT: Third annual Field’s End Writers’ Conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods.”

WHEN: Saturday, April 26, 2008
9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

WHERE: Kiana Lodge
14976 Sandy Hook Rd. NE
Poulsbo, WA 98370

DETAILS: This one-day conference, held at the spectacularly beautiful Kiana Lodge near Bainbridge Island, is a combination of lectures and breakout sessions presented by an eclectic group of people in the literary world.

The day offers three groupings of breakout sessions. Guests will select three workshops to attend according to their interest (literary fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screen writing, dialogue, genre, travel writing, editing, journalism, historical fiction, and commercial fiction). Each breakout session will also offer a Page One workshop, where conference guests can anonymously submit the first page of something they’ve written for possible live reading and critique by the guest authors.

Lunch is provided and there will be an early evening wine and cheese reception and book signing providing conference guests, authors, and speakers a chance to mingle. Shuttle buses will be available to carry walk-on ferry passengers to and from Kiana Lodge.

Registration begins February 1, 2008. Early registration is recommended as the conference is limited to 250 guests and has sold out in the past. Cost to attend is $135 if you register before February 28, 2008 and $150 after March 1, 2008. Groups of 5 or more can register for $130/person. To register for the 2008 Field’s End Writers’ Conference, visit http://www.fieldsend.org.

Founded in 2002, Field’s End is a writers’ community whose mission is to inspire writers and nurture the written word through lectures, workshops, and instruction in the art and craft of writing. Located across the Puget Sound from Seattle on beautiful Bainbridge Island, Field’s End is an affiliate of the nonprofit Bainbridge Public Library, which is located at 1270 Madison Avenue on Bainbridge Island. For more information, call (206) 842-4162 or visit http://www.fieldsend.org.

###

MEDIA CONTACT:
Kirsten Graham
Concept 2 Launch
(206) 890-3435
kirsten@concept2launch.net

kirsten graham
c o n c e p t 2 l a u n c h, LLC
creative consultants
innovation
.connections.results
t.206.890.3435
e:kirsten@concept2launch.net
http://www.concept2launch.net

So much of writing feels like play, or maybe like doing a craft–knitting, perhaps, or quilting. Something with color and pattern. My favorite stage of writing a book happens before I’ve ever written a word. Mulling ideas over in my head, sketching out characters, endlessly what-iffing to myself and to anyone who will listen.

Charm School stepbackCurrently, I’m pulled in four different directions. I need to work on Bo’s story for the Lakeshore Chronicles, because he is so damaged and sexy and compelling. I still love the mother/daughter novel I’ve had in progress for a long time, but I never get a chance to work on due to other obligations. I’m noodling around with the next hardcover (after Just Breathe), and I’m especially excited after an impromptu brainstorming session with Isabel Swift. And finally…drumroll…I want to write another historical romance.

There. I’ve said it. I want to do another historical romance.

I’ve had the idea for years, but it’s been on the back burner while I explore the endlessly fertile ground of contemporary fiction. But it won’t go away. And recently, when I was hanging out with my publisher’s director of sales, he happened to mention The Charm School and how it’s been such a reader favorite through the years. It made me remember the fun of the genre.

[Speaking of historicals, what do you think of this new cover art for The Charm School? (click the link and you’ll see it)]

This new idea–working title, American Princess–started nudging at me again. It’s like nothing I’ve done before or seen anyone do, but it has all the fairytale hallmarks of historical romance at its most fun.

Not that I have time to write it, not now. This would be a good “play” project–a book written purely for the fun of it. I might give myself a writing vacation of a week, and see what develops.

what’s on my mind right now:

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