Friday, December 17, 2010

Have You Tested Your Premise?

James Scott Bell in his book for novelists entitled, The Art of War for Writers, has an interesting chapter on testing your novel's premise.  


Or in other words...your BIG IDEA for your book.  Is it different, fresh, does it have a new twist...all the things that will push you to the top of the pile?


Bell puts forth a sort of check list for you as a writer to weigh your book's premise upon and see if you are wanting or on target. I'll paraphrase them to you, but I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Its an extremely easy read, yet packed with helpful tidbits for taking your novels temperature during the writing process.


  • Is your lead character someone real to you? Can you "see" them in your mind's eye? Do you think about them when you're not writing...not the plot...the lead?  

If not -- then what is missing?  Sometimes a free write or dialogue with the character introducing themselves to you, the writer, is helpful.


  • Is there anything HEROIC about your character? Any qualities whether potential, hidden, or evident that would make them stand out?  

Define them -- can you?


  • Who is the antagonist...and are they STRONGER than your lead in some way?  

They must be formidable at the very least, wily and diabolical are nice too.  If they're just irritating and slightly inconvenient to your MC...then fix them.


  • Define the "Imminent Danger" that looms over your lead. 

Is it death, their sanity, their future?


  • Can you see a climactic battle, won by your MC?  

What conflict do you throw at them? What must they overcome and how is their mettle tested?

  • What is the CHANGE that occurs in your MC?  What did they learn, how did they grow? 

Start at their end point and work back -- how does the conflict they face move them toward that change?



Bell uses an example from film for this final point on CHANGE...

"At the end of Lethal Weapon, Riggs gives up the bullet he's saved to shoot himself.  He has learned that life is worth living and that love from friends is worth accepting."

Writing reminds me of inventing. You have to constantly tinker and test and rework to make it the best it can be...but once you're done...its magnificent.

Until next time...Go Write

12 comments:

Mary McDonald said...

Awesome post! It's a great reminder and gave me some things to think about. Thanks!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Love your new blog look. I truly enjoyed your post. I'm going to see if I can download your suggested book to my Kindle. Have a great end of week.

I think Sam McCord and Victor Standish are both strong, flawed MC's. And their enemies are certainly epic and numerous!

Elena Solodow said...

Thanks for the recap!

Laura Marcella said...

I love that book. It's so helpful. I've made good use of that checklist!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

First writer test I've passed in ages!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Great post - I loved it!! Now I have to get that book. :-)

I'm glad you liked the auto correct link. So dang funny!!

Janet Johnson said...

These are some great tips. And sounds like a great writing book. :)

Hart Johnson said...

Big idea?! ACK! These are great things to think about--especially at the editing stage (at least for how I write--if I think too much while writing, I get muddled). I am bookmarking this one...

JEFritz said...

Great post. If you can't answer all these questions about a main character, they aren't a main character. They're a plot device.

Lydia K said...

This is a great post. I try to challenge my characters and myself with these very things!

RaShelle said...

Raquel - Great info. These are good questions to ask about your characters. =D

L'Aussie said...

Raquel this is a fantastic post. I learned a lot but think I will buy the book over Christmas. Thank you. As Roland says, your new blog looks awesome!