clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Premise and Plot

Someone somewhere on the internet this week has a blog post discussing premise and plot. I think it was from a couple years back. Perhaps I saw it on a search through "crime writer" blogs long dead which  I did on Tuesday.

To whoever seeded this idea in my brain: thank you. I wish I could attribute you properly here but I didn't save the site URL and so it is lost in the ether.

At left, a Jaguar XKE [ photo Jay Cross]. Like a premise, it's a beautiful thing that will end up disappointing you should you use it as your principle mode of transportation.

We all have ideas. Some of them are so beautiful and pure as to bring tears to the eyes. As writers, it is almost impossible not to fall in love with some of these in their earliest states. Long legs and blonde, they steal our hearts.

But, we can't marry them. We can't go to bed with them. We have to be able drop them in an instance to take up with their sisters: the better ideas.

No premise will get you through the novel. Most can't even get you through the short story.

She wears a housecoat and has curlers in her hair; but, that old battleax plot and her ugly sister characterization are whet we need to finish the story. We need them. We're already in bed with them. We can't afford to divorce them because they take all the sexy right off premise and leave the story in our hands flat of interest and broke for want of readers.

Great premise: A serial killer on the loose in the Stalinist Soviet Union. Great plot: the risk and reward trail of chasing the killer to the protagonist, his family, and his wife. [ Child 44 ].

The book, the story, is about the condition of the protagonist, her tumult and risk, and the threats to her desires and needs. The premise is about the sexy way you paint it up.

Our stores must be about characters and their interactions first. The great setting - say intergalactic war - is secondary to the strength of the core human story. When you see a movie, this becomes dull in your mind. A movie is an illusion. You've learned how to watch them and how to compensate for weakness in your own mind. Case in point: car chase. It solves all manner of shortcoming in certain films. If you read the screenplay you'd say : "Wait a minute...this sucks!"

Crime guys love Elmore Leonard. He earned that adoration. Get Shorty is a great premise: loan shark in Hollywood - guy who knows all the angles. However, the story is good because Mr. Leonard clearly defined the characters involved, their interests, their perspectives, and the interaction of this soup of humanity on upon another. He maked it clear to us how these characters interact and what risks that interaction entails one for another. Everyone in the story wants something. Everyone in the story is an obstacle to some other character getting what they most desire.

That's my best example off the top of my head. It's a great premise: low-level gangsters in D-grade Hollywood movie production. It'd be a poor story but for the honest composition of plot and characterization.

Please. I know the Jaguar well. If you pick it for your daily driver, you'll lose your job. You won't be able to get t the shop reliably enough to do your job.

We love sexy. We need solid. Put them both together and I'll be waiting in line for you to sign a copy for me. I might even gush a little about how you've inspired my own third-tiered work.

Now, that great idea you had? Go put plot and characterization in the room with it. Let some glamour rub off and lend that air of respectability to the hussy. She needs it to survive to publication.

I'm off to throw a party to get premise and plot both on the dance floor. Let's see if they like the tango.

I do.

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