Originally published by Irene Radford October 2010
Links updated by Jill Zeller
A premise does not a story make. My harddrive is littered with great premises. I’d get this idea that sounded really wonderful for a short story. The words flowed from my brain to my fingertips. Snappy dialogue, gorgeous settings, and deep emotion filled page after page after page.
But I had no story. Nada. Nothing. One thousand words of excellent writing that went nowhere.
A story needs a character, preferably someone readers can like, or at least sympathize with. That character needs a goal. The story provides conflict to keep the character from achieving the goal. The author helps the character compromise or grow, or neither, so that he/she can achieve or fail. That process of overcoming the conflict is the story.
Unless the snappy premise revolves around a story, it’s just a fun vignette or writing exercise. Note all those unfinished bits on my harddrive.
Yesterday I stopped reading a book on page 129, 100 pages from the end. I’d discovered the murderer and didn’t care if the protagonist and her cohort of amateur detectives lived or died. So I skipped to the end and to see if I was right and dumped the book. The premise of this cozy mystery intrigued me: A heroine who has forsaken the fast-paced world of advertising to open a tea shop in an historical district in the deep south. The story didn’t live up to it. Too much esoteric information and not enough mystery. The bad guys were more interesting the heroine and her friends.
There is a trend among cozy mysteries to center a series around a popular hobby, craft, or profession: gourd painting, beading, knitting, coffee roasting, catering. The mystery is littered with little factoids about the central interest. At the end the author provides a recipe, counted cross stitch pattern, or vintage clothing tip. Some have wonderful characters and interesting relationships that keep readers coming back for more. The how done it is as interesting as the who done it. The trivia becomes a flawless part of the story.Some keep me guessing all the way to the end.
The stories don’t live up to the premise.
Look here to find a talented writer’s cozy mystery writing tips.
And for useful advise for any mystery writer, check here for Elmore Leonard’s ideas.