Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The Second Step--Or I Say Hypothesis, You Say Premise
I introduced this concept in my last blog (just last Thursday, I’m saving up for the paper and exam-filled weeks to come—the end of the semester is approaching). As a research psychologist for the last twenty years (!) if you count graduate school, I’m writing about what I know.
The Scientific Method as a cure for what ails you. Right now, what ails me is deducing which idea I should pursue next. Last time, I wrote about Step One, Or Observing a Problem. As we all know, the second step in the scientific method is forming a hypothesis. That is, the budding scientist, or I hope, fiction writer, needs to take that amorphous problem and make it clear and precise, resulting in the hypothesis, or dare I say it, the premise?
What if I’ve been doing it all wrong so far? In case you can’t tell, writing this short series of blogs is hopefully for my benefit as well as any reader out there. Here’s my method of writing so far: dream a dream, write it down, and plot it out as if I were living it, as if I were watching a movie. Then, when I’m all done, come up with a pitch which sums up the whole novel in twenty-five words or less.
If I happened to be one of my research students, I’d fail myself. One NEVER collects data without the hypothesis fully justified and spelled out. Why have I been writing without the premise in place? Okay, I’m exaggerating…this haphazard method describes my first manuscript. My second, I began with an outline. My third, I wrote a synopsis first. My fourth, I plotted GMC (Goal, Motivation, Conflict). So maybe I’m a good wine.
Back to the premise. When teaching undergraduates how to form a hypothesis, we actually give them a simple formula…fill in the blanks: What is the effect of ____ on _____? The first blank is the independent variable and the second is the dependent variable. I’ve toyed with coming up with a similar formula for creating a premise.
How’s this? (Insert heroine’s name) wants _____, but can’t get it because of _______. Okay, that sounds very similar to someone else’s formula. I would add the same for a hero. And, then, hear a snide teenager’s voice asking, “And I care why?”
If the reader doesn’t care, if it’s not a problem they want to care about, then you can write it, but they won’t come. Maybe, unless they’re very famous or a wonderful storyteller. I’m not pretending fiction is science, just playing with ideas.
Other questions I ask when guiding students’ research…is the topic too broad? There are no absolutes, but I know you can’t do a single research project and try to cover all the effects of depression. Congruently, I don’t think you can write about everywoman or everyman. You need to see through a very precise set of eyes. But the topic can’t be too narrow, either. If the hero and heroine are modeled after real people, you’re too constricted unless you’re willing to go from there. Real life doesn’t always satisfy like fiction, so fiction needs to win.
The final question I ask is, do you care too much? Ah, that’s different. Can you care too much? Yes…if the pain is too new, too fresh, too harsh, you won’t be able to write the story. Yet. You won’t be able to gain enough distance to write a sympathetic villain or, if the villain has become all men, even a hero. My thought is journal the big hurts and write the ones you’ve gained some mileage on.
So, do you have a premise you can handle? That’s the question, isn’t it? Do you even need a premise or can you just write a cool story?
And Step 3, Collecting Data, yet to come…