Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Premise by Mark Troy

Alexandra Sokoloff is a writer whose blog I have followed for quite a while. She is a screenwriter and novelist. Her first novel, The Harrowing, a supernatural thriller, was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and the Anthony awards. I had the delightful experience of meeting her at Bouchercon. She is charming and gracious and willing to share her writing expertise with anyone, even (maybe especially), unknown writers. Her blog is full of great writing tips. Now she has put those tips into an ebook, available on Kindle. The book is Screenwriting Tips for Authors (And Screenwriters.)

Sokoloff credits her rapid success as a novelist to her experience as a screenwriter. She says,
While every book sale and subsequent career has a lot to do with luck and timing, I also know that my quick representation and sale had a lot to do with the fact that, even though I was a first-time novelist, I had already written dozens of screenplays, some of which were original scripts that sold to various studios, some of which were novel adaptations I'd done on assignment. In other words, even though I was brand new to publishing, I'd been getting paid to tell stories for years.
The essence of a screenplay is the story. It is the skeleton, stripped of all the other elements. By emulating screenwriting, novelists can elevate their novels from good to blockbuster. That is Sokoloff's premise.

A premise to a novel or screenplay is an easily understandable sentence that tells what the story is about. It should give the sense of the entire story including the protagonist and antagonist, the setting, conflict and tone.

To be a blockbuster, however, a novel needs not just a premise, but a high concept. If the majority of people who hear about the story want to read it, that's high concept. Sokoloff says you know you have high concept when people say, "Wow, I wish I'd thought of that!"

The test of a great premise or a high concept, then, is the reaction of people who hear it. It's not something that can be easily defined, but must be experienced.

So here's the first practical tip I learned from Sokoloff's book. She says to make a commitment to come up with three premises a week and share them with friends. That last part might come as a shock to many novel writers who prefer to follow the Chinese law of secrecy. (Why it's called that, I don't know.) The "law" is intended for creative folks and basically says: Keep your mouth shut as tight as possible. Why? Because, so the thinking goes, anything we leak loses strength with us. Some of the energy we feel for the story drains from us when we speak it.

Sokoloff, on the other hand, is saying we get energy from the reactions of other people. Maybe not to all the ideas, maybe to one in a hundred, but that hundredth could be our blockbuster. And that premise is the one to write. I have to say that Sokoloff is not the first person who has suggested sharing three premises a week with friends. The other person who suggested it to me is also a screenwriter. So maybe there is something novelists can learn from screenwriters. I'm going to try it.

Now for something different. On my last post, I offered a free short story. This time, I'm offering another one. The story is Teed Off. To download it, go to When you go to check out, enter the coupon code, BH39R.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


resume service said...

i liked this post very much! thask you for sharing your thoughts and experience! hope you wouldnt mind if i share it with my friends! thanks again!

Morgan Mandel said...

I do find that sharing with others gives me other perspectives I wouldn't have thought of myself. Sometimes they can find holes in my thinking which a reader would discover. Other times a few words from someone else can open up great new avenues of thought which enrich my novel.

Morgan Mandel