Developing a breakout premise is the first major focus in Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. Plausibility (could it happen) is critical while predictability (I already know what’s going to happen) is a tolling bell for another dead premise. In his section on brainstorming the breakout premise he advises looking at your premise and testing it for predictability. If an idea or character seems as familiar as corn flakes then deliver the unexpected by turning it upside down. His example takes a very predictable movie-of-the-week type dramatic premise and develops it into what may be a breakout premise. Even if the final premise may not be “breakout” caliber it is far far better than the tired familiar ideas he starts with. The demonstration is provoking and forces you to start constantly evaluating your own premise, characters, and settings.
The exercise would go something like this…Step 1: Take a premise: Young Simon dreams of becoming a rock star but the universe conspires to snuff out his dreams. His parents have plans to send him to military school to “help” him adapt to society, his friends can’t really play their instruments, and his gym teacher seems to have decided that making Simon miserable is the perfect outlet for his own “anger” issues. This premise is (yaaawn) not bad but applying the techniques in this book could make it snap, crackle and pop! Step 2: tomorrow.