Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Is Your Story Premise Plausible?

Have you ever come up with a story idea that you were so excited about at first only to find that later as you tried to build a story on it, the premise broke into pieces?

I have had a dozen wonderful openings for stories, but that’s all they were—openings. Most had one thing in common: the premise wasn’t plausible enough to keep an entire story going. Plus, the story was too flimsy and I didn't want readers saying “That would never happen that way.”

Why would they say that? Because the story didn’t ring true.

Our stories need to be believable. The premise needs to be plausible.

Now that’s not to say you can’t have people going back in time, or in another dimensions, or in a fantasy world. But when you put your characters in such situations they need to act like real people. They need to:
  • ask questions
  • experience pain
  • and react to their situation in a believable way.

I remember years ago when the movie While You Were Sleeping came out. If you haven’t seen that movie, you should. I think it’s one of Sandra Bullock’s best films. The story premise for that film could have gone so wrong if put in the wrong writer’s hands, but fortunately for us the writer did a tremendous job of layering one misunderstanding on top of another misunderstanding in a very believable way that made for a very funny story.

Another issue to look out for while developing your premise is not to make what’s going to happen next obvious. You don’t want your readers knowing exactly where the story is going. They might think they know, but give them a surprise, take them in a different direction and make them think of the situation in a different light. Help them to see the many dimensions of your characters and how they deal with what's going on. This will help keep your readers up late at night because they can’t put your book down. That’s success!

Here’s a wonderful quote from Donald Maass.
“A premise that is surprising yet credible is one that is far more likely to make us exclaim, ‘I wish I had thought of that.’”

Isn’t that what we all want?

What are some issues you have found with a story premise that has gone wrong?


  1. While You Were Sleeping is so great!

    These are great tips. I always like asking myself "What if" and making a list of all the possibilities, no matter how outrageous. It's the best way for me to come up with something credible and unexpected!

  2. That's exactly what I want too :) Awesome post!

  3. Hey Kathi - Oh boy. A woman's search for her stolen purse. She follows the trail of the purses' contents as the thief dumps them and makes friends along the way. In the end she finds the thief and the purse and a possible love connection.

    Just didn't sound plausible. After the whole "Letters to Juliet" movie, I think anything is possible and maybe he stole the purse to "steal her heart." LOL Such cheese. =D

  4. Laura,
    What would we writers do without "what if" in our arsenal of questions? I'm with you, I love coming up with the unexpected. :)

  5. RaShelle,
    I missed that movie. Sounds like a good one to rent just to see how they handled it. Some people like cheese, but I'm with you. Plus I like my cheese with bread or crackers (plausibility). :)

  6. I believe my premis is plausible. Most writers use wormholes in the future tense or include time travel or men with little pointy ears. However, my setting is today, a breakthrough discovery at M.I.T. is stolen, and a power play ensues to control or destroy the discovery. No men with pointy ears and no time travel, only traveing through space here on earth. Big difference.

    Stephen Tremp

  7. Stephen,
    Your book sounds good. My book time-travels. There are Lamanites and Nephites, a wicked king, a mesmerizing jaguar, and a sacrificial altar, but no pointy-eared people. ;)



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