Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Taking Apart the Hot Premise

By Elizabeth MS Flynn, w/a Eilis Flynn
We’ve all had that experience of stepping into an elevator or other confined space, realizing you’re in there with an editor or an agent, and en lieu of pointless small talk, he or she asks you what you’re working on. As you stammer out your longwinded answer, the moment ends (i.e., the elevator door opens) and said editor or agent goes on his or her way. Could you have made use of that opportunity by blurting out the hot premise version of your synopsis? You betcha!

This is for everyone who’s been asked to boil down their story idea into one sentence, ten words or less. This is for everyone who’s had a hard time boiling their stories down into the simplest terms, a necessity in today’s short-attention-span era.

First of all, what’s a hot premise, anyway? You’ve heard of the term “high concept.” It’s the term that Hollywood types are known to use to mean a movie or TV show idea that can be summed up in just a few words. It’s a premise (a hot one!) that can impart as much as a paragraph or even a book could, but just hitting the highlights that take people aback and make ‘em blink (Hollywood types not being known for their enjoyment of reading more than a few words at a time. Are they literate? One wonders).

That “what-if” thing is the very essence of fiction, but in the case of the hot premise, it’s everything. In just a few words, it has to intrigue and inspire, and most challenging, no matter how old the idea, it has to be made fresh. The idea could be an old one, but it has to be translated for the modern age. The best way to be able to do this is to know your own plot and story very, very well and give it a twist that rejuvenates it.

Okay, by now you might have gotten the idea about what a hot premise is and how you can go about boiling down your story idea into a few words. One of the most frustrating things you may have learned in school is that too often teachers don’t want short and simple, they want complex and high-falutin’. So instead of the simple answer you were about to give, you find yourself having to make it sound way more complicated than you think it needs to be. This sticks to you through school, through college, through graduate school and your doctoral dissertation…but it doesn’t work when you’re trying to sell your story. Because people who’re going to be buying your story don’t care about how high-falutin’ you can make it, they care about how your story makes them feel. And that’s as basic as you’re going to get.

Now look at your story. Can you tell people what it is in ten words or fewer, using a twist you want your readers to focus on?

I’m breaking this all down into its basic elements in an online workshop for the Carolina Romance Writers this February. Come on over and see if you can be succinct!

Elizabeth MS Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, historical fantasies and short stories, a young adult novel, and a graphic novella (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). She’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, and finance nonfiction, and romance fiction. If you’re looking for an editor, she can be found editing at emsflynn.com and reached at emsflynn@aol.com. If you’re curious about her books, check out eilisflynn.com. In any case, she can be reached at eilisflynn@aol.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Log 38: Finding Zero

Finding Zero by Amir D. Aczel

Zero. What a nothing concept, you may think. But it is an everything concept, it turns out; it hasn’t been a concept to mull over for that long in the history of mankind. Because we’ve had the concept all our lives and we take it for granted, and everything we’ve studied presumes the existence (or the nonexistence) of the concept, to imagine a train of thought without it just blows my mind. And to play zero investigator and track it to its roots? Even better!

The subhead of this book is “A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers,” and since most of my math classes ended in high school and college and my life went on without using much else other than simple arithmetic uses (despite thirty years of Wall Street—but as I've often said, that’s fake math they use in Wall Street. It’s not real numbers), there was a numerical world referred to and explored in this book. Well, not really explored, more referred to, but that’s to be expected, since this was meant to be a work for the masses. (You can tell it’s meant for the masses, once you mention Fibonacci and explain what the sequence is and then who Leonardo of Pisa was. And after having had to do the research about Leonardo of Pisa at the magazine I worked at and then having to correct so many times the articles there afterward that referred to “Leonardo Fibonacci,” I was so happy to see it RIGHT.)

Anyway, back to the book. It was eye-opening, because all this time we’ve been told that the numbers we know today came from India by way of Arabia. But then we see the characters we’ve been told were the basis of the numerals we know and we realize that there has to be more to the story. And there is!

Because the concept of zero did sort of come from India by way of Arabia. But it didn’t originate there, either, apparently. Now consider this: the zero WE know may have come from Buddhism’s concept of nothingness, and have been first referred to much, much earlier, in the 7th century—in what we know as Cambodia. Yes, Cambodia, that poor country torn apart by war and politics. Let me indulge in something silly: BLEW. MY. MIND. (Cliche, but so true!) Hurray for zero!

COMING UP: Oh, so many choices, so little time, and more!