Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z Challenge: K is for Key

Welcome to Day 11 of the A to Z Challenge

Many bloggers have chosen a theme for the A to Z.  My pledge since becoming a blogger is to post about writing, so for this event, I will being posting about what I've learned about writing a novel.


K is for Key:  something that affords the means of access. (

One of the best books I’ve ever read on the craft of writing is Writing the Breakout Novel by literary agent Donald Maass.  In it, he plots out an easy to follow roadmap with all the key ingredients.  So I’m going to use his words and knowledge and spell out the key ingredients for a breakout premise:

Plausibility:  When configuring the premise of your novel, you have to ask yourself, could this really happen?  Maass insists that the premise must seem like it could happen to us, the reader.  It should have a grain of truth, for it is this truth that persuades the reader to care.  A little known fact that is unfamiliar, surprising, or arouses curiosity draws the reader in deeper.

Inherent Conflict:  Another question to ask yourself is, does my world contain built-in conflict?  In other words, are there opposing forces, both strong, maybe even both right?  Stories should be set among cultural and social surroundings that are sophisticated and involve contentious groups or perspectives, somewhere it is NOT safe.  Even the most utopian setting should overflow with complications and unseen hazards.  Character relationships must also have conflict.

Originality:  There probably aren’t any new plots to be discovered out there.  The same tropes have been explored over and over.  So you need to find a fresh angle.  Even a story that’s been told a plethora of times and ways can be retold from a different perspective.  Maass suggests authors find originality by doing the exact opposite of what is expected or to combine two discrete story elements.

My own novel is about two very different brothers, revenge, and organized crime, all tried and true premises.  It’s also about mistaken identity, another popular trope.  But I combined the four concepts and wrapped them around a love story, adding my own experiences and telling it from a unique perspective.                     

Do you have a checklist for brainstorming a story premise?  


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I use the fifteen points from the book Save the Cat. That one has helped me more than any other book.

Rebecca Kiel said...

Great K post. I should check out that book sometime!

Matthew MacNish said...

I have the Maass book. It's very good.

Kyra Lennon said...

I really need to get this book - I have heard so much about it!

ladysknight said...

Great post about keys for writing
well thought out A to Z

KarenG said...

I've never read this one but want to. And your novel sounds like one I would really like!

Donna K. Weaver said...

It's kind of funny that we have to use a premise that could happen, yet if we happen to chose a real life--as in we've experienced it--we also have to be careful because people won't believe it. =D Sometimes you just can't win.

Perle said...

Nancy: Very informative. I have a WIP that I work on sporadically and post a chapter on my blog for feedback. I think I've hit all the keys, at lease to my mind's eye, but I may re-read it with your keys in mind.

mooderino said...

I like Maass's stuff, he's really good at pulling out tiny things you wouldn't think of.

Great post. And yes, I do have a checklist funnily enough...

Moody Writing
The Funnily Enough

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

My books are fantasy, so I rely on the suspension of disbelief! But even so, I strove to make the fantasy elements believable - like how Jamie gets into the Christmas village. It still all needs to make sense, and all ends still need to be tied up. I really follow the Hero's Journey as much as possible. The folks at Mythic Journeys have a video on it that's great.

jnana said...

This is informative. It makes sense but sometimes I think there should be no rules when it comes to writing.