In his writers guide, Writing the Breakout Novel, author and literary agent Donald Maass leads us through an exercise in brainstorming the breakout premise based on his two tests. Is it plausible (could it happen – good) and is it predictable (you already know what will happen – very bad). In my hypothetical (yawn) premise young Simon dreams of being a rock star but his parents are planning to send him to military school, his friends can’t shred cheese let alone a guitar solo and his school gym teacher has made humiliating Simon his life’s work.
Is a young boy dreaming of being a rock star plausible? Sure it is. Is it predictable? As predictable as the sun setting on your chances of getting published. If we follow the author’s advice we need to deliver the unexpected. What if Simon wasn’t so young, like maybe 38? That would be funny. I like funny. Is a 38 year old in school plausible? Not really unless… what if it was drivers ed? Simon is 38 and still trying to get his license. That’s plausible and funny too! What about his hard driving parents? What if they were a pair of aging hippies constantly railing on him to turn on, tune in, drop out. Plausible yes, predictable no. And so it goes. The premise starts to acquire a life of it’s own and expand the possibilities of humor, action, or drama. The next part of our premise makeover…raising the stakes.