What’s In A Premise And How Do I Write One?

Yesterday I talked about Theme and it’s importance as well as my lack of being able to pin it down in my novel.

I suppose I really should have discussed Premise first, but I was so excited to have found the theme that I had to blog about it 🙂

As I lay in bed, thinking about this novel, I came to this conclusion: My struggle with theme AND the fact that I (as of yesterday) had yet to define a clear premise, attributed GREATLY to the fact that – after looking at my rough draft – I found my plot severely lacking.

As with all writing advice, there are contradictions. I’m sure there are people out there that find the premise and theme after they’ve written the novel and are quite happy with that. But I’m pretty sure that, for me at least, knowing the premise and the theme before I sat down to write would have not only tightened my plot, but made the writing process a lot easier.

I tell you this because if you are a new writer, you should consider premise and theme at length. Granted, this is my opinion, but be sure you read up on these two elements, then you can decide if you feel it’s necessary to know them before you start writing or not.

Now….What IS Premise?

Well…Think about the last novel you read. Now, what was it about? If you can tell what it’s about in one sentence then you understand premise.

If it took you ten minutes to describe it, well then, this is for you 🙂

A premise is a focused view of what a book is about. Look at the back of a book. You will most likely find a logline that works as the premise.

Typically a Premise consists of the following:

  • The Main Character
  • Situation – What causes the character to take their journey? What starts the trouble?
  • Objective – Goal
  • Opponent – Who is the MC up against? What stands in her way?
  • Disaster  – The consequence if the goal is not met
Once you figure out these components, then try to fit them together in a couple sentences.

Here’s mine:

Searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance on the foreign streets of London, Katherine Shaw discovers the impossible: a government hunted hidden society of genetically altered humans with impossible powers – powers that exist deep inside her as well. In a deadly game of prey vs. predator, Katherine must fight to stay alive and face what she really is: the most impossible of them all.

  • The Main Character – Katherine Shaw
  • Situation – The disappearance of her mother  
  • Objective – To find her mother
  • Opponent – The truth
  • Disaster  – Death & Captivity resulting in her not finding her mother

My last two may seem vague so let me expand: I put truth as the opponent because even though there is an “opponent” trying to stop Katherine from reaching her goal, the hardest thing she faces is dealing with the truth. The world is not as it seems…her reality has crumbled. Thus, in my situation, the truth was the biggest opponent.

As for the disaster, you can either name specifically what could happen or you can be more general – like me 🙂 I don’t come out and say that death & captivity are the consequences of not meeting the goal, but rather, I hide it in the context.

Look at it again:

Searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance on the foreign streets of London, Katherine Shaw discovers the impossible: a government hunted hidden society of genetically altered humans with impossible powers – powers that exist deep inside her as well. In a deadly game of prey vs. predator, Katherine must fight to stay alive and face what she really is: the most impossible of them all.

The last part I highlighted in yellow to show you the opponent. She has to face who she really is, aka Facing The Truth.

What about you? What’s your premise? If you don’t have one, did this post help the process?


For more on Premise & Theme, visit The Writer’s Resource Site.

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