Delivering On Your Premise

We’ve all been there. An idea pops into your head and it’s so ludicrous, so fun, that you just have to start writing it down. Erudite and lusty space dinosaurs? Go for it! A world in which you can taste colors, giving completely blind people a way to describe the spectrum? Why the hell not!

Then you get excited about it, and because you’re not a soulless automaton, you talk to people about the thing you’re excited about, which in turn excites them. You have just built anticipation for the idea.

Now you just have to write the thing that will live up to what’s in your head and in their imaginations.

Is it even possible to deliver on a premise completely? I think not, but you can certainly get as close as possible. When you’re writing a story, especially genre fiction in which the world is somehow different than the reality we live in, often the premise of your story is the fun part. There’s shapeshifters. There’s wizards. There’s robots or aliens or spiritual anarchy or demonic possessions or alternative power sources or what-if scenarios that change the course of human history. What if there were dragons that lived alongside man and were used in warfare during the Napoleonic era? What if there were polar bears that could talk and hot air balloons were a primary  means of transportation and all people had a familiar?

Everything I’ve described here are stories I’ve read, and each one I read it partially for the premise alone. I heard about it and was interested to see what it was like. Some delivered on the premise better than others.

So how do you satisfactorily deliver on a premise?

I think the big part of this is in your world-building. You need to know how the world works, and how it makes the world different than our own reality across the vast spectrum of human experience. Most of this shouldn’t be making it into the narrative in big exposition dumps, but if you know how it works,  you can really, deeply, mine that information to explore the premise and give people a lived-in world.

If you tell someone you’re going to write a story about space pirates fighting alien parasites that turn people into mindless zombie drones, it’s up to you to come up with fun or unique scenarios that could ONLY happen in your universe. If they start reading a story because they hear about zombies that say “ARRRRR” and have tungsten steel peg legs and robotic nano-parrots, those things need to be front and center.

If you promise them a space pirate adventure and then never do anything fun or unique with your space pirates, what’s the point?

Why do I care about the nano-parrot if it’s indistinguishable from a regular parrot on a regular pirate ship from a regular pirate story? You’ve got to make me care about the premise by making it feel real, making it feel unique and thought-provoking, and making it FUN.

And I don’t mean fun as in funny or lighthearted. I mean fun as in it provides entertainment in some way. You’ve made a promise to the audience and the only thing you really have to do is follow through. Explore it. Find the fun. Tell the story that can only be told in your universe.

Tell the story no one else can tell and you will find an audience, and they will be happy because you’ve delivered on your premise.

2 thoughts on “Delivering On Your Premise

  1. I agree with and want to add that you can use the world we live in and add in those unusual or impossible characters to enhance the normal or not so normal world in which we live.
    I love to read about mysterious theories and places in this world that are still unexplained or unexplored.
    Create even more mystery if you will!
    World building either new worlds or old is paramount to getting the reader fully engaged!
    Engage me and write the hell on!

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