“Voice is like air: the best air is crisp and clean.”—Story coach, Larry Brooks
we Never Stop Learning
Books on the craft of writing line my desk like dominos. Openings, character development, scene execution, theme, it’s all there. But those that examine structure are my favorite.
Every story needs a strong foundation. Beautiful sentences fill us with wonder, and well-developed characters are a must, but no matter the genre, higher stakes and escalating tension keep readers turning the pages.
Of course there are exceptions, notably some literary fiction, but in general our stories are stronger when certain plot elements are in place.
My most dog-eared and marked-up books on structure are those by Larry Brooks, so you can imagine my excitement a few weeks back when I attended his live workshop in Columbus, Ohio. His insights and humor made the day fly by. Some of the topics he covered were: the four parts of story, the six core components of storytelling, and the six realms of story physics.
He also elaborated on the difference between concept and premise, an issue few others address. Per Brooks, concept is a subset of premise. “It’s the rocket fuel that will make your premise soar.” If your concept is weak then your premise will be too.
Larry Brooks, Concept Vs. Premise
So what’s the difference? A concept is more general, a framework if you will. It can lead to many different premises. The premise, on the other hand, is the specifics of your story. It’s what makes your book different from those with similar concepts. According to Brooks, it should include certain elements, starting with who the character is and ending with how he or she resolves his or her conflict.
For example, in Eating Bull the concept might be stated as:
An overweight teenager sues the food industry for contributing to his obesity.
The premise, however, takes this concept further and individualizes it (note, I purposely kept the last part of this vague to avoid spoilers):
When an overweight teenager gets recruited by a headstrong public health nurse to sue the food industry, he becomes the poster boy of fat, drawing the attention of trolls and bullies and worse: an obsessive-compulsive, fitness-crazed killer who takes it upon himself to rid the world of overweight people. As the murders escalate and move closer to home, the self-doubting teenager must overcome lifelong insecurities and find the courage to take down the killer in order to protect himself and his loved ones.
Why is nailing down our premise before we start writing so important?
Because per Brooks, “the purpose of premise is to identify the dramatic arc.”
Our story’s dramatic arc is what draws our readers in and keeps them reading. Bonus? The better fleshed out our premise, the better our first draft. Second bonus? The better our first draft, the less painful the revision.
For the key components of premise and other craft elements, I encourage you to check out Brooks’s books. If you get the chance to take one of his workshops, do it. In the meantime you can visit his website and find invaluable content for free.
An update on my newest book
My latest manuscript is with my publisher, ScienceThrillers Media. Hopefully the ARC will be ready soon, with a publication date in the first half of 2018.
In The Bone Curse, Western medicine meets Haitian Vodou when a skeptical med student must enter the occult world after a vengeful priest unleashes a centuries-old curse upon him, one that causes him to spread a deadly infection to his loved ones and can only be cured with Vodou.
Think Robin Cook meets Preston & Child.
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