Premises That Work And Those That Dont

In chapter 1 a detective story was discussed. It involved a young detective named Boyer Bennington Mitchell who was out to prove himself the equal of his hard-boiled father. Boyer was going to solve a crime perpetrated by a woman who murdered her husband to spare her family the disgrace of his being exposed as a dope dealer. What is the premise of this story? How about: "the truth wills out"?

Well? The murderess gets caught in the end and her crime is exposed, right? The truth does will out. Isn't that a nifty premise? No, it isn't. It's much too vague. It would serve for every detective novel ever written. A premise must be specific to the story. In this case, the murderess kills to avoid disgrace, gets caught, and is disgraced. The premise, therefore, is: "desire to avoid disgrace brings disaster and disgrace upon herself and the ones she hoped to protect. "

Her desire to maintain her status, in fact, is a burning passion. It leads her to kill. The premise could be put more succinctly as "passion for status leads to disgrace."

Here are some such premises that are so generalized that they are worthless:

• Strangers are not trustworthy.

• Existence leads to death.

Most of the above premises can be made viable as follows:

• Trust (of a stranger) leads to disillusionment.

• Unbridled greed (caused by being brought up in poverty) leads to alienation.

• War brutalizes even the most noble.

• Love leads to happiness.

• "Existence leads to death" cannot be made into a viable premise. It's simply a statement that every living thing dies.

• "Life is too short" also cannot be made into a viable premise. It might serve as a story's moral, but not its premise.

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