Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pursue That Premise

Ponder that, in November of 1983, Kevin Eastman drew a bipedal turtle, wearing a mask, with nunchucks.  Within a few days, Eastman and his friend, Peter Laird, had created four such turtles, each armed with a different ninja weapon; fast forward thirty plus years and multi-million dollars of franchise later.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are yet alive and well, and making money.  Bless the heroes in the half-shell.

Get that?  Bi-pedal turtles, martial arts, and fighting crime.
I know there was some luck involved.  There always is.  But I also know this:  PT Barnum is accredited with saying, "The American public will buy almost anything."  Ok, Barnum is accredited with saying a sucker is born every minute, but my version is a tad nicer, and no less true.
As writers, or whoever happens to be reading this, let us bow our heads and contemplate that premise may not be as important as we think.  Nor should premise be dismissed because it sounds a bit goofy.  Speaking of which, why does Pluto never get to talk, while Donald is nearly incomprehensible when he does say something (at least in the original)?  Speech impediments and limitations must have been part of the original idea.

What is a writer's premise, or, to become all high-falootin', what is a literary premise?  Ok, never mind the high-falootin (it doesn't sell that well anyway).  But according to a plain old thesaurus, a premise is:  an assumption, hypothesis, thesis, presupposition, postulation, supposition, presumption, surmise, conjecture, so on, and so forth.
A premise is a simple game of 'what-if' the writer plays.  For example, what if I filmed an almost recognizable celebrity spouse swapping places with another sorta-kinda recognizable celebrity spouse?  That would be the premise for Celebrity Wife-Swap.  Titillating, no?  Maybe not so much, but people do watch that crap. And, somebody somewhere probably enjoys making those episodes.  And this, perhaps, is the key.

As a fiction writer, if one does not enjoy one's premise, then what's the point?
I posit today that if a premise (any premise at all) has ensnared your imagination, then please, do run with it.  Go ahead and play, 'what if'.  Flesh it out and see what happens.  If it doesn't work, so what?  All that has been lost is a little time.  Make it up in your sleep.  If it does work, then guess what?  Therein lies the tale.  It may be explored and pushed and pulled and turned into something people (at last, or maybe at least, you) will enjoy.
Premise is not story.  Premise is not character.  Premise is only a situation and some of the setting.  The writing is the magic and the magic will tell the tale.  But it order for that to happen, a writer needs to follow-up on a few things.
Writers, let us now place our foreheads on the dirt and ask, 'How many ideas have I rejected because I dismissed the premise as not very good, dull, or stupid?' The answer is probably far too many.  Remember, someone will read it.  That's how the reading public is.  In the meantime, give your imagination a break.  Let us run loose for a while.  One never knows when a great idea has just arrived and to dismiss it out of hand is just a bit premature.  And no one likes to be premature.

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