One of the most important aspects to effective creative writing is the subject matter that an author writes about. While it is true that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, a prospective reader nonetheless will nonetheless examine the back cover and read a summary of what the book is about. Those two to three hundred words written in the back (or in some cases, the inside cover) can mean the difference between a purchased book and a one-way trip to the bargain bin barely three months after release.
This is apparent even in anime, where in instances such as this year’s spring season, rife with a large number of watchable shows, the allure of a really great hook is enough to get people to choose your work over others within the same medium. But what exactly makes for a great premise? Let’s take a look at a number of Spring Anime, and see what works about their premise.
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia
Premise: A young man tries to help the ghost of a girl to rediscover her memories in life.
What makes the premise work? In John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, a well-received premise is often paired with a thoughtful designing principle. A designing principle is the means of which the premise will be executed in an interesting way. In the case of Dusk Maiden, the concept of ghost amnesia is not exactly new. What makes the story intriguing, however, is the relationship that is set up between the characters. While most anime would involve a paranormal investigation club, Amnesia goes one step further by making the ghost the president of the club. Also, while romances between ghosts and mediums are also fairly commonplace, setting up numerous love triangles with other individuals who cannot see the ghost makes for some interesting possibilities.
Mysterious Girlfriend X
Premise: A boy and girl are connected romantically through the latter’s saliva.
What makes the premise work? Romances are a dime a dozen, and a lot of them involve some amount of spit swapping, but not to this degree. Mysterious Girlfriend X takes what is commonplace, and cranks it up to eleven (or socially speaking, the other way around). The driving force behind the main couple’s relationship is way out there, which is more than enough to not only turn a few heads, but to keep them glued to the screen as the episodes air.
Sakamichi no Apollon
Premise: A boy transfers to a new high school during the 1960’s, and develops a friendship with a delinquent kid through a shared interest in Jazz music.
What makes the premise work? Other than the association of Yoko Kanno in the series’ soundtrack, the milieu of a 1960’s jazz-influenced Japan is tantalizing by itself, and may not even depend on an original story. However, the added dimension of exploring the relationship between the two contrasting main characters through the duality of classical and jazz music is also an interesting concept by itself. Marrying the two together, however, makes for one of the most unique approaches to storytelling that I’ve ever seen in a particular anime series.
Premise: A panda becomes a regular customer at a cafe owned by a Polar Bear.
What makes the premise work? The old adage of “It’s X-genre with a Y-twist!” rears its hilarious head with some unconventional choices. If you were to do an exercise where you think of as many Xs and Ys as possible and combine them together, chances are low that you would mix Slice of Life with talking animals. To take this twist even further, these talking animals are integrated into human society, where the humans are not bothered at all by the presence of talking animals. As a cherry on top, give those animals the most fitting of personalities, and the result is a very intriguing show that’s sure to garner at least some attention.
Premise: A moe anthropomorph of Nyarlathotep is sent to Earth to defend it from a doujin smuggling ring.
What makes the premise work? Aside from the obvious unconventional pairing of moe with Lovecraftian mythos, the main draw of this particular concept is the way the Cthulu universe is integrated into the story’s own universe. As a gag comedy, the existence of a moeblob Nyarlathotep breaks down the our literary expectations of Lovecraftian horror without fully throwing out the notion of the nature of horror itself. The very thought of a cutesy crawly thingamajig is enough to drive any person insane, otaku or otherwise.
Perfecting the Premise
A great premise provides a novel idea or concept, and asks questions that makes audience want to find an answer to. An even greater premise seeks to execute that novel idea using an even more novel way. The designing principle is the core ideology that the author must come up for him or herself, and must adhere to throughout the creation of a particular piece of work. When trying to break out into the business of writing, authors who have yet to prove themselves or become recognized through a unique writing style or voice, and as such, rely on a single hook to draw prospective audiences in.
When it comes to anime, it’s particularly interesting that due to the nature of the medium and fandom, a lot of hardcore fans are prone to giving most anime a shot. The “database animal” nature of anime and manga fans lends well to the notion that all a premise needs is to hit on the essential tropes-du-jour in order to sell. This makes sense in the short run, but general consensus in writing circles is that authors cannot write with the market in mind. What’s hot now may not necessarily be so in a year or two, and that current fashions can change drastically within the span of a book’s development.
“What’s the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? … An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold in the brain, it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood? That sticks.” – Dom Cobb, Inception
The premise is essentially the fundamental idea that an author aims to plant into an audience’s brain, and hopes to grow into something that transcends the notions of trend and fashion. Before you get around to writing the next Haruhi Suzumiya, be sure that you have the right ideas in mind first.