Monday, October 29, 2007

Breakout Premise - Part 5


What's a writer to do? It's all been done before. There are no new ideas. We've heard it over and over.

Maass has a few ideas of his own. Find a fresh angle, a unique perspective. Can you approach your story from an unusual viewpoint?

He also suggests two other methods to increase originality: ". . .(1) by doing the opposite of what we expect and (2) by combining two discrete story elements."

Readers love to be surprised. Going in an unexpected direction can capture us even before we know it. A main character filled with quirks (think "Monk") can give a wonderful twist to the standard detective fare.

And two rather common story lines, when combined, can raise a story above the norm. Sometimes called "high concept", Maass uses this example from a conference he attended where Rick Horgan spoke. A woman is recovering from cancer. A nice thought, but not something you want to read for 300 pages. But add the woman's dream of climbing Mount Rainer--now you've got something!

A fourth idea is to combine genres. One of my critique partners, Susan Lohrer, writes a terrific romantic comedy and fantasy that sticks with you. I'd love to see her combine those two elements. The hard part is that a novel in which genres are combined "needs to be built on a breakout scale as is, say, Diana Gabaldon's 1991 novel Outlander . . . with plot layers, high stakes and depth of character." Way easier said than done.

If your premise doesn't contain some originality, you may want to take another look at it and see what you can do to kick it up a notch.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Sharon Hinck's The Restorer comes to mind as a great example of this. Who'd have thought to combine mom-lit with fantasy? Totally works, and it's the premise that has gotten so many to initially pick it up. Then, of course, Sharon's writing is superb, too!

  2. You know, C.J., I've heard so many wonderful things about Sharon's books. I've got to get my hands on one! Thanks for reminding me.