Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Challenges Within and Without

A solved Rubik's Cube, showing the yellow, blu...Image via Wikipedia
When an author decides to start writing a new book, the different sides of the project - like the different sides of a cube - present themselves. Just like a cube, the new project does not reveal all its sides in one viewing. There is always a hidden aspect - or an aspect that is very difficult for an author to address.

One could possibly give the six sides of the cube the different facet names or tags associated with writing a novel: story, plot, structure, characters, locations and the all-important premise. They all present challenges to the author, and none more so than the last. How can an author afford to address the premise last, though? Turning the cube so that premise is always on the blind side might be possible when scribbling out a plot outline. It might even seem possible when one is sketching out the various characters.

Erasmus by Holbein from Wikipedia
When it comes to deciding upon and creating the protagonist, however, and the plot that drives the story, one cannot move onward without a good strong premise: one that is based in some way on some aspect of the human condition. Sometimes a premise can be found by looking at ancient adages: they were created, and found some sort of permanence, because of the universal quality of their meaning. "Too many cooks spoil the broth." "It takes one to know one."

An author cannot go past Erasmus when looking for a premise that will hold a book together. Applying one of this philosopher's adages to a book can quickly bring about that 'aha!' feeling one longs for when faced with a new task. It can show the way: it can reveal a method, an understanding, or a trajectory. And when a writer can see these things, the reader will be able to see them too.

A reader is often challenged by an author: plots can be complicated, characters can seem dull and lifeless until the action starts. The premise too, is sometimes elusive. This is because the author is challenged in two dimensions. One is the dimension and time-line of the novel and its story: it exists outside the author's own life and needs to stand alone. The other is the relevance the novel has to real life, and how it needs that relevance to reflect something inside the author's life. This is something readers need to guess, but they certainly feel it if it is authentic.

The premise is important to the writer: the challenge is to be brave enough to choose one that is close to what the author is all about. It is exposure. It is showing the world something private and personal: something meaningful and weighty. It is risky: dare one show the world how one feels about issues that are contentious and private? Would it be turning the story inside out?

The challenge for a reader is to decide whether the premise - and the humanity of the author it reveals - is valid, a seamless part of the story, and the most important part of the book. The challenge is to take According to Luke, my forthcoming thriller, and decide what the main premise of the book is, and whether anything significant is revealed.
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  1. It is deeply interesting to me to read these posts and contemplations of yours. It's a while since I have written fiction, but of late I feel more and more th urge to return to it and here I feel a kindred spirit pondering the same issues. Thanks very much for sharing these thoughts.

  2. Inka - I feel that a novel from you would be replete with luscious locations!

  3. Infusing a novel with personal experience will make it more authentic but it also has to be said that the greatest novels do not so much reveal personal experience of the author, but touch upon universal themes - things that are universally relevant to all of us.

  4. Yes, Hugo - universal themes touch all of us, but authors make them accessible as concepts to readers by using touches out of their own experience. When something is felt and lived, it sounds more authentic to a reader.