Monday, October 31, 2005

Types of Premises

There are three types of premises:
  • Chain Reaction Premise
  • Opposing Forces Premise
  • Situational Premise
In a novel with a Chain Reaction Premise, something happens to a character that initiates a series of events leading to a climax and resolution. Examples of Chain Reaction Premises are:
  • Purity of heart achieves salvation.
  • Passionate love leads to death.
In a novel with an Opposing Forces Premise, two forces are pitted against each other, and one wins. Sometimes you can state the premise the same way you state a Chain Reaction Premise. Sometimes you can state it more descriptively as an equation of the form x versus y > z. Examples of Opposing Forces Premises are:
  • Cunning ambition defeats honor.
  • Alcoholism defeats love.
  • Cunning ambition v. honor leads to a travesty of justice.
  • Alcoholism v. love leads to desolation.
In a novel with a Situational Premise, a particular situation affects a group of characters, leading to a different outcome for each. The situation changes each character in a unique way. So, a situational story is actually a compound of many stories, each with its own premise. That premise will be a character premise. Typically these novels are stories about situations like war, natural disaster, life in prison, life in the ghetto, and so forth. Often the situation is a profession.

These stories show what being, say, a cop, a nun, or a politician does to people. Some are ennobled and some depraved.

The Poseidon Adventure is a good example of a story with a situational premise. In it a passenger ship capsizes. Most people choose to wait and hope for rescue. A few attempt the dangerous climb up to the bottom of the ship to escape. Along the way each makes choices that lead to his or her indiscriminate fate. Because of a cruel twist, those who make it cannot escape through openings near the propeller. Yet they are the only ones saved when rescuers hear them and use blow torches to get through the hull and free them.

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