I’m blogging chapter by chapter through a great book on the art of writing by James Scott Bell. I encourage you to pick up a copy of “The Art Of War For Writers”.

 Tip 26 is this: Test your premise to prove it worthy.

 Vacationing in Tulum, Mexico a few years back, I noticed a number of abandoned half-completed resorts on my beach walks. Someone at sometime began work on a considerable investment, but then ran out of money, time or interest, and pulled the plug.

I wonder how many writing projects and stories over the years have been started, then abandoned, just like those resorts? We’ve probably all had them.

When you sit down to write a book, the journey you are committing to will last at least several months. If ever there were a case of “counting the cost” – as Jesus said – then this will be it. So you want to make absolutely sure that the central idea of the story as well as the characters who will drive that idea home are worth such an investment of time.

Which is why JSB encourages us to take our premise out for a test drive. And invite your main characters to come along for the ride.

What’s helpful about this entry is that Bell lays out a gauntlet of very specific questions to ask yourself.

  • Is your main character someone you can see and hear?
  • Does he or she have obvious or potential heroic qualities?
  • Does your antagonist provide sufficient opposition? Is ‘death overhanging’? And can you picture in your mind a climatic battle which the main character will win?
  • What inner journey will your Lead travel in the story?

Once you have answers of substance to those questions, Bell recommends you take a breather from the project, then come back at it and assess the market for your story. Be honest about this. Write out a “back book cover” paragraph of the story and pass it around, asking for ruthless feedback, and an answer to the question: is this something that a reader would seriously pull off a shelf?

Story ideas, like seeds, will far outnumber what actually produces a living thing. Following Bell’s advice will help you narrow down your options, making sure that you invest your watering and weeding in the right places.


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