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Article - 'The Evolution From Premise to Story' by Xanqui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Apr 7, 2005

Blurb

Xanqui takes you on a tour through his techniques on turning something from a simple idea into a great story.

Body

The premise and the story are not the same thing. The two go together, but they are separate entities that require the influence of each other. Usually a storyteller begins with a premise long before he comes up with a story. The following will show the steps to connect the two together to for the realm that is the story. Accompanying it is entries in the journal of an author.

The Premise usually begins as a raw idea. It often comes as a sort of small epiphany, like “hey, wouldn't it be cool if...” that manages to stick within the author's mind for hours after thinking about it. Or perhaps you might suddenly remember it and decide to extend the idea.

As I was listening to the song “Rocket Man” I thought of what it might be like to live the life of a man who constantly needs to be sent into space for vital missions. - The song isn't literally about astronauts, but the song sparked an idea that was there all along. It just needed something to trigger it.

But all you have so far is a raw idea. At this point, writing down anything you have so far will be VITAL, for you are bound to forget things quickly. I've learned to keep a journal with me at all times in case something suddenly comes to mind. You cannot rely on your memory to remember ideas. Never assume that because an idea is good enough that there's no way you could forget it. I know this from experience.

My friend and I had a conversation about science, and he seemed to know a lot about neutron stars. I like the idea of them being almost like black holes because their gravity is so intense. This seems like a good idea for my rocket man. But he also told me that extended periods of time in space can cause a body to become weaker, and when they return to Earth, they suffer the effects of gravity and air pressure. - Now the premise is forming. It's about a guy who has to save the world, but in turn he is forced to sacrifice his own health. Seems interesting enough.

As ideas begin to form and it looks like a plot may be able to fit around it, it's time to do some research. I recommend www.wikipedia.org. Now, what do you research, you ask? Everything. Anything you're unsure about or think might be a bit more complex than you think should be researched, because the symbolism or history behind it may help influence a better, deeper story. There may even be some science that you didn't know about, or religious influences.

I've given this astronaut the name “Joe.” Apparently there are a number of ways to travel across the galaxy, but I liked the wormhole theory the best. He'll get to locations using artificial wormholes created by the ship he flies. But I'm not sure what he's saving the world from if the locations he goes are thousands of light years away... - At this point, it's time to come up with your own ideas, or use ideas that you already had in mind.

Perhaps the solar system and other sections of the galaxy are directly linked together, and the wormholes bring him to the locations of the linked solar systems. He finds that they are very similar to Earth's system, but they are on the verge of collapsing. If one star collapses, it will create a chain reaction that will lead to the death of the sun. Perhaps by reversing the gravity of a neutron star, he could “restart” the galaxy with a massive explosion. But the risks would be enormous.

There's the premise. It's not quite a story yet. So far we only have the raw story, but it's getting somewhere. “But the risks would be enormous” is the kind of sentence you write that you'd want to pay close attention to. This is where the premise can expand into a deep ethical story.

If the galaxy is left untouched, it will inevitably come to an end, but we don't know how long it will take. But there is a chance we could restart it, giving us billions of years to continue existence. However, the great risk might end Earth much sooner than what would have originally happened. Then again, is this what nature intended? Did humans evolve and create ships for the purpose of saving the galaxy, or were they meant to be destroyed at a specific time? - Here you can see the mixed ideas evolve into a much deeper premise. Considering I've been making up the journal entries as I write this article, it's getting pretty deep.

So what do we have so far? We've got some theories on the galaxy being connected, a few ideas on how it might be saved, as well as a few perspectives on the whole situation. Now it's time to begin the story.

The Story begins before it starts, usually. What I mean is that the events that lead up to the point that your story begins have already happened, and we are introduced to the characters already involved in the action. There must be some sort of background to the whole story.

Joe was a top-ranking astronaut whose friend began noticing severe changes in the sun's weather patterns. Solar flares are firing off much worse than usual, and at first it seems as if the sun is dying. But that doesn't make sense because it still has enough energy to last it a few billion years. At the same time, scientists are noticing similar behavior in other stars. This is after humans have discovered faster-than-light travel, and now seems like the perfect opportunity to take advantage of it. - Joe hasn't even been sent on the mission yet. We just know that he's important.

From here, we need to figure out where the story actually begins.

The story begins just as Joe prepares for his first jump into the artificial wormhole. Nobody knows if it will work, since the jump is further than anything ever sent before. The furthest anything had ever gone was to Pluto, but that was a monkey, and it didn't come back. But Earth may be in danger, and Joe is willing to risk his life to find out. - It's here that we learn what kind of guy Joe is on the outside. He's a brave man willing to sacrifice himself. There would be more to that, but that's not what this article is about.

There's our starting point. Now we need to figure out what happens next. I wanted something about how his body becomes weaker with every mission, as well as his discovery of the connection. Hmm, perhaps we could combine these two ideas to connect the story together?

By his fifth mission, Joe isn't doing so well. His doctors had already warned him not to leave again, but he knows he's onto something. While he visits another solar system, he discovers that the mathematics that make up this solar system are identical to Earth's. The planets are the same size and type and follow the same order as Earth's solar system, and it looks as though there may even be life on the Earth-like planet. - Now Joe knows for a fact that there is a connection. He has already made the decision that he will risk his life for his home, so he won't be giving up now. He'll let his body die if he has to.

Okay, so there is some character development there. So far everything remains true. Connecting ideas is simple, but is also one of the most important things to keep in mine while creating a story. The history must affect the present, and the present must reflect the history.

Joe is stubborn in his ways because he once lost half of his crew during a space walk. While trying to decide whether to move his men back inside, a solar flare fried all of them and shut down the space station for a week before a second team could rescue them.

The next step is to move the story forward, all the way to the point that it ends. Here you may want to write out a summary of the story, event by event, until you find the best ending. Don't worry about grammar or spelling while you write it, just write it. You can go back and edit anything any time you want, so don't worry if an idea sounds bad or not if you need something to fill in the gaps.

Upon returning to Earth's orbit, he is told by doctors that he will die if he returns to the surface. Joe must remain off the planet for the rest of his life, but he must protect it. Joe is faced with the dilemma of not being able to see what he had sacrificed so much for to protect Earth. Is it fair that the world expects him to keep going when he won't even get anything for himself?

The first two sentences of the previous entry show a brief summary of a part of the story, but is then followed with how it will affect what happens next in it. One of the biggest mistakes I see writers do while writing out the summary is that they leave out secrets. You don't have to let anyone else read it, so why would you omit those things and risk losing the best idea you had? There's no reason to hide the secrets and upcoming twists from yourself, since you yourself are writing it.

In those entries you can see how the story evolved from a simple idea into a look into ethics. Feel free to use the story if you want, since I have no intentions of using it. The following tools are tools you could probably never live without if you want to be a serious creative storyteller:

A Journal – I know, it sounds cheesy as crap, but ever since I started keeping one, writing has been so much easier. I write in it every day whenever something comes to mind and I don't let it evade me. It's good to be able to look in it and suddenly go “hey, that's a great idea!”

A Folder on Your Computer for Text Files - I've been keeping a pretty heavy portfolio on my computer in My Documents with tons of stuff on the background of everything, including the summaries of the stories themselves. But I take it a step further: I write detailed summaries from the perspectives of each character, ensuring that everything overlaps each other. Each character has his or her own text file with his or her perspective, and it's quite fun to write.

A Random Name Generator - How does ANYONE who writes stories live without these? Go to www.mapmage.com to download a really good free one, or www.seventhsanctum.com for a huge collection of various generators. Names can often get people stuck, and these are the closest thing to a remedy for that problem.

Friends - Aside from the social part, talk to your friends about your ideas, and ask what they think. Keep an open mind and don't take anything they say about it personally. Write in your journal as they talk to you, because an outside look at your story could be important in ensuring that someone other than you will like the story. I have a friend who loves hearing my ideas and has been the best thing to ever happen to my writing. He gives simple, yet logical answers to some questions I have that seem to have just slipped my mind.

Something Else to Do - You will go nuts if you focus all of your free time on developing a story. Read a book, watch TV, play a game, just do SOMETHING when you feel you need a break from developing it. Staring at a wall is the worst creative technique I've ever tried.

Together, these things can really help you out in turning a simple idea into something great. You already know the story, you just need something to bring it and all of its ideas out of you.