Thursday, April 1, 2010

You have to have a great start!

No, today I am not talking about those opening pages of your book. What I want to focus on is the initial premise of the story that you begin with. If you don't begin with a good foundation for your story, I don't care how much work you put into it, the story will fail.

One common rejection that I send out is that the writing is good but the premise is not something that I believe publishers will want to buy. This is not a statement about publishers being limited in their view, it is the simple, hard-core fact that the story itself is awful. What is often frustrating though, is that in many of these cases, the writing is pretty good. From those first pages, I can honestly see the author has talent. Unfortunately, I am screaming to myself, "why did you pick this topic to write on?"

I do think that writers have some great ways of first developing their story ideas. Some start with an event or the conflict. Some start with a great character. I have one author I work with that starts with some great dialogue and scene building. These approaches are fine. Where the problem comes is the element of putting it all together. Writers often fail to see the big picture and see how this will all fall into place. In other words, in an attempt to do one thing they believe the editors want, they fail to get the rest of the elements.

I see this a lot in many of the shorter e-book stories. Please note this is not a slam against the publishers. We're simply talking about the stories. If, for example, a publisher is interested in a 10-15 K word count story with a lot of sensuality, the writer focuses on just that. The dialogue, the plot, the conflict all goes away. What you end up with is a story with characters in bed and getting sweaty, with nothing more. We're talking about characters that may have never met each other, and then mysteriously, at the end of the 15,000 words, he proposes and they are married. Huh?

Kate Duffy and I always joked about the idea of Alien Vampire Bunnies but this is just one of those examples. A writer, in an attempt to focus on one element, misses the point and has a premise that will not work.

As a writer, you can't simply stick two characters together and see how it works. There has to be a symbiotic relationship between the characters, setting, theme, plot and conflict. If one is out of sync, the whole thing falls apart.


  1. Interesting and informative as always, thanks Scott.

  2. I know you don't have a crystal ball (do you???) so this is just a question about your personal opinion/preference and your finger on the pulse . . .

    Concerning story premise: what do you think would be more marketable right now (assuming the writing is SUPERB, let's say!)

    an inspirational
    a Mills and Boon style medical
    a contemporary
    an urban fantasy
    a space opera
    a Victorian mystery

    Where do YOU see the opportunity for growth?