- A demon dimension opens under the library of a southern California high school.
- An alien, sent to earth just before his own planet was destroyed, develops superhuman powers.
- A spacecraft explores newly discovered worlds.
- Government agents collect potentially dangerous supernatural artifacts, storing them in a secret warehouse.
- A town is populated by geniuses who work for the federal government, developing top-secret, cutting-edge technology.
- A tabloid reporter encounters paranormal and supernatural threats as he pursues news stories.
Each of these sentences identifies the premise of a weekly television series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, Star Trek, Warehouse 13, Eureka, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
What these premises have in common is that each one provides the basis for a theoretically endless number of episodes. Buffy: What will emerge this week from Sunnydale High School’s Hellmouth? Smallville: What powers will the alien develop, and to what use will he put them, and why? Star Trek: What new worlds are discovered, and what does the crew encounter when they explore them? Warehouse 13:What artifacts have been collected, and which remain? How and why are these objects dangerous? Where did they come from, or who invented them, and why? Eureka: Why research is being done? What effects has it had, if any, on the scientists and the townspeople? Do any of the experiments go awry? If so, what happens as a result? Kolchak: Where do the threats come from that the reporter encounters? What motivates their hostility? What happens when the reporter reports them? Is he believed? (He does, after all, work for a tabloid newspaper.)
Not everyone who is interested in writing horror (or any other type of fiction) is likely to want to write a weekly television series, so why should a writer be interested in a premise that promotes such a project?
Here’s at least one reason. By envisioning even a single, stand-alone story for which no prequel or sequel is envisioned or intended as a series of episodes, a writer can develop several plots relating to the same setting, characters, and situations, choosing from the results the best of the best. If one intends to write only one story, he or she may as well make it the best of which he or she is capable of writing. This approach will provide an author with the means of doing so, providing, as it does, the opportunity for him or her to develop virtually any number of plots using the same themes, characters, settings, and situations. The results? Sequels, prequels, trilogies. . . .
Moreover, if a single, stand-alone story should take off as a series, the writer who uses this approach is apt to have a lot of story ideas available, right from the start.
In addition, this approach allows a writer to envision how and why his or her characters may change as the story progresses. Should A, B, and C occur, what effects would their occurrences have upon the protago0nist six months or six years hence? This approach allows the author to ask and answer this and other questions. Whether the writer shares these perceptions with his or her reader or keeps them to himself, the fact that they have occurred to the writer should help him or her to anticipate future developments, attitudes, behaviors, and incidents, preparing the reader for their eventual occurrence, in the same or a later book, and to make such changes believable and seemingly natural.