The Plausible Premise

Contemporary what-not would have us believe that readers are lazy.  This is true, as far as it goes.  We’re lazy and we’re easily distracted.  We have less tolerance for pages and pages of non-story than readers of old.  More to the point, we’re less willing to bear with writers who can’t bother to do their job.

The writer’s job is simple:  Tell a good story well.  It’s simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.  The devil’s in the details.

One of those details is the plausibility of your premise, which will depend on your genre.  Since genre is such a key element to plausibility, it’s important to clarify what I mean by genre.  While it’s true that contemporary audiences enjoy a good genre-blend, it’s absolutely essential that the author know the core genre of the story and adhere to the “rules” of the genre, or at the very least break them well.

For example, the Twilight series is a pleasurable read if, and only IF, you recognize that the primary genre is romance.  I don’t care how many vampires, how many werewolves, or how much magic you put into a story; it’s not primarily a fantasy novel unless the plot of the story revolves around the fantastic elements.  When every key plot point is directly related to the romantic relationship, then the primary genre is romance.  The premise of the story, however, is fantastic in nature, because it asks the question “What if a vampire falls in love with a human who smells especially tasty?”  The key plot points are, of course, influenced by the premise, which is fantasy, but they’re directed by the genre, which is romance.  If you haven’t read Twilight (or at least watched the movie), then, well, I guess this example isn’t going to have the same bite, but I hope you can still get the general gist.

Genre directs plot.  Each genre has some basic rules.  Each genre has some basic conflicts.  These basics can be worked, reworked, broken, bent, and otherwise manipulated for the sake of a story well told.  But there has to be a reason.  Ignorance and laziness generally aren’t tolerable reasons.

A premise has to be plausible.  If your genre is romance, then it has to be plausible that your characters are attracted to each other and the attraction has to be strong enough to motivate them to overcome (or try and fail to overcome) their impediments.  If your genre is fantasy, then the magic system you use has to be plausible (which means there has to be constraints).  If your genre is science fiction, then the science—however far-fetched or far-future it may be—has to be plausible.  The key to plausibility is that you have to be able to justify your choices and the justification has to be within the story itself, at least obliquely, but not as a “sermon.”

It’s your responsibility as the hard-working writer to make your premise plausible for your lazy readers.  If you’re not willing to bear that responsibility, don’t write it.  If you do, you’re opening yourself up to labels like hack and otherwise subjecting yourself to scorn and derision.  And you’ll deserve it.  (Oh, and try to prevent your publisher, if you have one, from mislabeling your book, otherwise you’ll get the same result from people who don’t figure out what your real genre was supposed to be.)

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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