Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Premise and the Strongly Held Belief

Fiction Writing
by Molly Noble Bull

Like all my articles on fiction writing, many of my teachings come from Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain.

Question: In a novel, what is a premise and why is it important?

Answer: A premise is often a proverb or scripture verse like those found in the Bible. Example: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
However a premise need not come from the Bible to be a suitable premise for a novel. Example: Honesty is the best policy.
A premise is important because it tells what your novel is really all about, and in my opinion, every novel MUST have one if the author hopes to sell. The premise relates to the plot and is important because it gives your novel meaning and substance.

Q: Why should a premise come from a proverb or saying that required the characters to make a choice?

A: In a story, characters must choose whether to take one path or another. Therefore, the premise must be designed to allow the characters to make those choices.

Q: Why must a premise contain a decision?

A: A story is not a story unless characters make decisions to follow one path or the other.

Q: Give an example of a premise that causes the characters to make a decision.

A: Here are examples of premises that cause characters to make a choice.
Honesty is the best policy.
Honesty is not always the best policy.

Q: What is a strongly held belief and why is it important?

A: A strongly held belief is a saying that influences the characters or a belief of the hero or heroine in a novel.

Examples of strongly held belief:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
A lady never hangs her dirty laundry in public.
Always wear nice underwear because you never know when you might be in an accident and end up in the hospital.
A gentleman never hits a woman even when provoked.
Always eat everything on your plate because others around the world are starving.

Q: Are the premise and the strongly held belief sometimes the same?

A: No, they must be different. Every novel must have one of each.

Q: How does the premise help keept the novel moving forward?

A: The premise helps keep a novel on track by constantly focusing each scene on proving the premise to be true.

Q: How does a strongly held belief infulence character?

A: Let us say that the hero's strongly held belief is that you never hit a woman even when provoked. In the novel, a woman hits him again and again. He is tempted to hit back, but because of his strongly held belief, he doesn't.


Eileen Astels Watson said...

Hi, Molly: I see I better pull that book off my shelf. I have a premise for each of my novels, but never knew that's what it was. I just always pick a biblical verse the reveals the just of my story and start off with that.

My characters each have several strong beliefs, a few of which get altered along the way as they grow, their spirituality grows and the romance grows. It's a major way that I show growth in all of my threads within the romances I write.

Great post! Thanks for this!

Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Eileen,
Thanks for writing. I'm not sure exactly where I first heard about the premise and the strongly held belief. But it sure is true and helpful to writers.