I believe that premises should be simple

Right now I’m reading FIRST BLOOD, which is the book that the movie RAMBO is based upon, and I’m not only enjoying it, I’m also quite impressed by its construction. The book so simple and so controlled. The sheriff and the drifter meet in the first scene, and then in the next few chapters we see why Rambo is such a basket case and why it’s impossible for him to back down. The whole premise is so easy to describe: a vet’s PTSD is triggered by an authoritarian cop, and since neither is able to back down, they fight to the death. 

Not all premises are this simple. In fact, most aren’t. But I think there is a lot of value in simple, iconic premises like this. It’s too easy, in the writing game, to fall in love with complexity and convince yourself you’re being profound when really your writing is just self-indulgent. Sure, lots of books pull off complicated. But lots more fail at it. And when a book is simple and honest and fresh, I think it ends up having a lot more power, since it feels like nothing is happening: the story is so unconstructed that it just feels like life. (Ironically, these stories are usually the most polished and well-wrought.)

Comments (