Shatrujeet Nath, the bestselling author of the Vikramaditya Veergatha series, explains the difference between a premise and a story and tells us how he converted two different premises to bring out his popular mytho-fiction series.
One thing that I get to hear a lot from aspiring authors is: I have a story, but I don’t know how to take it forward, so do you have any tips for me?
What I have come to realize from such conversations is that what these authors usually have is a premise, which they are mistaking for a story. The two are obviously different, and as you know this as well as I do, I shall not labour the point. A premise is a launchpad, whereas the story is the full elliptical orbit that the satellite has to take before it makes a successful re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.
That said, the problem that these aspiring authors are grappling with is a very real one: how do you take a premise — an interesting premise, even a fascinating one — and fashion a story out of it. For the truth is that while any premise can be interesting, a story is lot more than just its premise. Which is why, when they sit down to start fleshing the premise out, these authors end up running out of gas. I suspect this must have happened to at least some of you as well; I’ll admit that I too have been a victim of this situation.
Having a premise that is potentially exciting, but not knowing how to build on it can be extremely frustrating. You could spend hours mulling over the idea, admiring its brilliance, but the moment you decide to begin putting it down on paper, the brain freezes over and you can’t see the way forward. This looks suspiciously like that famed monster they call Writer’s Block, but in reality it is just the simple fact that your mind doesn’t have a story to go on, so it has shrugged and thrown its hands up.
Is there a way around this? Speaking from experience, I say yes. It’s called “Two ideas are better than one.”
Let me give you an example from four years ago. I had finished writing The Karachi Deception, and was actively scouting for a follow-up story. Of the ideas floating around in my Idea Bank, the one I was most attracted to was the premise of the Halahala not having been entirely destroyed by Shiva, and that remaining Halahala now finding its way into the hands of some unsavory characters seeking world domination. I wanted to work this as a contemporary thriller — probably a cross between Dan Brown and Robert Ludlum. I even wrote a 2-page synopsis around this, but in all honesty, I could sense that the idea was too me-too and singularly unoriginal for my liking.
Around the same time, there was another idea that I kept flirting with — King Vikramaditya and his navratnas as a band of superheroes. This one appealed to me a hell of a lot, but again, I just couldn’t make any headway with the premise. What were Vikramaditya and his navratnas supposed to do, what crisis were they expected to protect the world from? I had no answers.
The upshot: I had these two independent premises / ideas / story triggers co-existing in my mind for almost four-five months. One (Halahala) was a premise which needed context and a set of heroes. The other was a set of heroes who need context and a purpose to exist. Two ideas — or two half-ideas — struggling to stay alive and relevant.
Then, one morning as I turned things over in my head — BAM! What if Vikramaditya and his navratnas were to be entrusted with the task of protecting the Halahala from said unsavory characters? BAM! What if those unsavory characters were the devas and the asuras? BAM! What if Shiva is the one who gives Vikramaditya the Halahala for safekeeping. BAM!
From there, it probably took all of twenty minutes for me to put the overarching Vikramaditya story in place. I had my elusive story about the Halahala. I had my superhero saga about Vikramaditya. I had the backbone to my Vikramaditya Veergatha series.
This isn’t an isolated instance. There is another idea that I have developed for a graphic artist friend of mine for what could be a graphic novel. While I am not at liberty to talk about the idea, what I can say is that I used the same process of clubbing two independent ideas that this graphic artist had together to come out with a third idea that was stronger than either of the two original ideas he had.
Sometimes, when you have what you think is an interesting idea that is going nowhere, try and see if you can merge it with another idea that you are incubating. At first glance, the two ideas / premises might appear completely different, so clubbing them might even seem farcical. But remember that very often, what we think of as premises or ideas are in reality half-ideas looking for other half-ideas so they can become whole. If you allow that process to happen naturally, the synergy that you unlock can be what takes you from 1,500 words to 70,000 words in three months flat.
Wouldn’t that just be two good?