July 5, 2013

Keys To A Breakout Premise

Now that I’m done jotting down most ideas for book 2 of the Morgana Trilogy, I’m re-reading Donald Maass’s The Breakout Novelist to get inspired for more plot twists, to make the story as exciting and intriguing as possible.

In his first chapter, Maass (a very well-known literary agent) describes “the key ingredients that he looks for in a fully formed breakout premise”:

1. Plausibility:
   a. Could that really happen?
   b. Need to feel the story presented has some basis in reality, so we can care about what happens to the characters.
   c. Readers wonder at something that’s strange, unexpected, or unusual, as it provokes questions, thereby drawing us deeper into the story.

2. Inherent conflict:
   a. Does the world of my story have conflict built into it?
   b. Anywhere that there are people, there’s inherent conflict. And writers need to bring it out.

3. Originality:
   a. Is the conflict the writer picked genuinely new?
   b. Although human nature may never change, our ways of looking at it will. Therefore the writer needs to find a fresh angle on a familiar subject.
   c. Some ways to be original:
         i. When derivative novels are successful, they are often not direct sequels, but rather riffs on some aspect or other of the original work.
         ii. Doing the opposite of what readers expect.
         iii. Combining 2 discrete story elements (mixing 2 familiar story styles, and even genres).

4. Gut emotional appeal:
   a. Does your breakout premise make people shiver? Does it get them in the gut?
   b. Feels personal.
   c. Touches emotions that are deep, real, and common to us all.

The rest of the book delves deeper into each point, reflecting on many aspects a great book contains, and why those elements are important. Anything you’ve found inspiring in these words?

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