In a time where fantastical science fiction and superhero stories are popular, the concept of a unique premise can be a big selling point. The wisdom behind this idea can be applied to any genre. In Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy, she took the unique opportunity available to her as a futuristic author and sold her first book off the premise of factions. As as brief sidenote, I also think this was one of the reasons that Allegiant was such a controversial flop. The main thing that the story had going for it (in the face of an overkill romance), was the unique faction system. However, making the most of your unique premise–whether your assassin character is working as a clown, your story world is divided into factions, or your rogue protagonist is dating an FBI agent’s daughter…is something that authors of any genre can easily nail.
Use it to create conflict.
If you have the most jaw-dropping premise, but don’t use it to create conflict, you’re toast. Charred, unappetizing toast. In Divergent, Veronica Roth did this well. Her Abnegation protagonist was very uncertain as to which faction she should choose. Roth highlighted Tris’ discomfort and ignorance regarding Dauntless ways, in order to introduce the reader to an equally unfamiliar world.
Show both sides.
Roth really nailed this part of it. She showed the benefits of the faction system. Tris learned about selflessness and giving to others, but she also learned how to be a warrior and defend others. She also showed the joy of children who fit into their new faction perfectly, like Tris’ brother. He was so happy about all the new knowledge at his fingertips and the opportunities available to him by transferring to Erudite.
On the other hand, she showed the pain of Tris’ parents when both their children left Abnegation and essentially ‘deserted’ to different factions. She showed the distrust among other factions and the failings. Roth showed how helpless the Abnegation were in the face of mind-controlled Dauntless. In the right situation, each faction could be powerless in the hands of another, due to how only one skill set was focused on per faction.
Remember that characters are key.
You can have the best premise known to man, but if readers can’t connect to your characters, you may well be sunk. When Allegiant ended the way it did, (cue major spoilers for those who haven’t read them), I experienced a shocking lack of emotion for the death of a character that I had followed around for three books. I’m guessing Tris’ constant ties to the overly one-dimensional Four didn’t help (more on him in Thursday’s post), but make sure that your character is well-rounded. We can’t emotionally connect to your awe-inspiring futuristic technology. What we can emotionally connect to is your protagonist, who is struggling to hang onto the things and people that matter most to him or her.
Playing around with all aspects of your premise is fun. It often adds a lot of humor (if you’re Gordon Korman) or a lot of conflict (if you’re Veronica Roth). Often, doing it can lead to an awesome first sentence, too.