|C. Kevin Thompson|
Lajos Egri, in his book The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Emotions, calls it premise. He says that without a premise, a writer doesn’t know where he or she is going. The writer is wandering through a self-made, literary desert, looking for a reason to continue and having no earthly idea which direction to go.
Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission, believes if a church doesn’t know it’s purpose, then it can easily get sidetracked or bogged down in earthly matters which have no heavenly relevance.
Robert Marzano, in his book The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction, gives the basis for his growth model which focuses on the Learning Goals in a classroom. If the goals are not the focus, then much of what is taught in the classroom denigrates into simple but boring busywork, or it shapes up into well-intended but misguided assignments which leave the students wondering how their work is relevant to life and worth their time to complete.
It seems that no matter what profession you enter, you can find a book, read an article, or hear an expert say virtually the same thing. I find this interesting and opportunistic. To me, it proves our world is searching for answers to the eternal. People inside and outside the church long for meaning to this life. The “Why am I here?” question arises within all souls, I believe. And Heaven knows they try to find the answer in everything but God, it seems. Nevertheless, the fact they are looking for it is good news for us as writers.
Within the realm of writing, Egri states other writers have used different words to describe this concept: theme, thesis, root idea, central idea, goal, aim, driving force, subject, plan, plot, and basic emotion. Of course, he believes the term “premise” encapsulates all of these ideas, including the term “purpose.” I believe arguing over which word best describes what an author is to do is a bit of a “potatoe-pototoe” squabble, personally.
The point is, if a writer starts a fiction manuscript, a poem, a non-fiction article, or whatever floats her boat, and she doesn’t know where it will start, doesn’t know how it will end, and really doesn’t understand why the piece needs to be written in the first place, then the writing will show it. It will wander aimlessly, filling page after page with helpless details and hopeless dialogue. The reader—if she gets very far into it—will plow through these meandering sentences searching, even hoping, for anything meaningful. Why? Because there was a purpose in their purchasing of the book.
They spent money making a decision to buy your book over the 10,000,000+ books out there from which to choose (Wow! Chew on that for a minute.). They also made a conscious decision to set aside valuable time from their busy schedule to read your work. So, why would an author sit down and start plucking away at the keyboard if he or she doesn’t have a clue what they are ultimately writing? Egri would say you need to be very specific. Writing about love isn’t good enough. What kind of love are you targeting? How deep does that love go? What direction? And is it engaging? Does it have a goal? A purpose? A reason for being?
We would call a family who jumps into their car and takes off for the family vacation with no destination in mind a bunch of buffoons, right? Who does that? Not only do they need all those things decided BEFORE they start the engine, they also need to ask some deeper questions, like did they want to stay busy? Or do they want to relax? Did they want to sightsee? Or do they want to “get away from it all”? City or country? Hotels or camping? With no specificity—i.e., a reason for being—vacations, like writing forays, become beyond silly.
When I write, I have overarching themes which drive the tenor of the book or series. There might be underlying themes—subplots which carry their own reason for being—but they are subservient to the overarching purpose of the story. For example, in The Serpent’s Grasp, the purpose/overarching theme is, “What is truth in light of scientific discovery?” In other words, science isn’t going away, nor should it. But how do we as Christians take scientific discoveries—viewing them through the lens of scripture—and help explain it all to a world searching for its own reason for being?
In my Blake Meyer series, the purpose/overarching theme is: “What is true peace in light of patriotism and nationalism?” In other words, where does being a patriot and protecting your country—while trying to bring about peace to your country—cross paths with what true peace is and is not? Can they coexist? And if so, how?
These bedrock questions help keep me grounded when I want to write my way off the grid or into a corner.
If you want your writing to be money and time well spent in the mind of your reader, then before you type the first word of the first line of the first chapter, figure it out. What is the premise to your story? Why are you writing it in the first place? What is your story’s reason for being? If your answer is, I just want the reader to feel good or be entertained, that’s not good enough. There are too many other things clamoring for people’s time and money that can bring about the same end result.
How do you determine your story’s reason for being? How do your novels’ premises differ from one story to the next?
 Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Emotions. Touchstone; New York, NY. 2004 ed. p. 2.
A Clandestine Mission.
A Cryptic Message.
A Chaste Promise.
Blake Meyer dreamed of a peaceful end to a dutiful career with the FBI. Married now, his life was taking him in a new direction—a desk job. He would be an analyst. Ride it out until retirement. Be safe so he could enjoy his grandchildren some day.
But when a notable member of the IRA is murdered in a London flat, Blake’s secretive past propels him into the middle of a vindictive, international scheme so hellish and horrific, it will take everything Blake possesses—all of it—to save the United States from the most diabolical terrorist attack to date.
C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.
A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, Kevin is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge—A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.
Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.
Kevin’s Writer’s Blog: www.ckevinthompson.blogspot.com
Kevin’s Educational Blog: www.thehelpfuleducator.blogspot.com
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