Creating The Premise For Your Novel

By: Scruffy Scribe

What is a Premise?

Your premise is your first expression of the Novel that you will create.

Essentially the Premise of a story can be explained as, “What is at stake" in your story. Your premise is the foundation that you will build the rest of your story upon. The premise will act as the foundation used to build your characters, your theme, and your stories plots.

The premise is used to lay out the primary goals of your Hero or Heroine. It is used to lay out the path that the protagonist of your story will use to achieve the stories goals.

When you undertake the development of your stories premise, there are a few things that you must take into account. First you must quickly introduce your main character. Then you must make a decision about your main characters objectives, what is it that they are trying to accomplish in the story. This will explain to the reader what it is that your characters desire.

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An explanation of your main characters driving desire can go a long way to explaining most of the characters actions throughout the story, especially when those actions are not directly benificial to the characters personal well being. And, finally you must also include a sense of where the story is going and what the outcome will be.

This sounds like alot to be put into one sentence and it is. I personally don’t like the limitation of forcing your premise into one single sentence. I think that a great premise is best expressed in a short paragraph, rather than condensed into a single sentence.

In the next section we will examine how I go about creating a premise for my stories.

Why Do I Need a Premise?

It is very important that your premise be well laid out and easily recognizable to your readers. If you fail to properly present the premise of the story to your readers, you may end up losing the readers interest. A reader who loses interest in one of your stories, will quickly cease to be a reader of all of your stories. So you can see how important it is to have a good solid premise for each of your novels or stories.

Traditionally, your premise is supposed to be a one sentence representation of the story you are going to write. But as I have already said, I personally don’t like the limitation of forcing your premise into one single sentence. I think that a great premise is best expressed in a short paragraph, rather than condensed into a single sentence.

This premise will contain the introduction of your main character, the event that starts the action, and some sense of the direction in which the story will head.

Here is the single sentence premise for a Novel I am planning on Writing for this years National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) Competition:

“A man travels to Egypt in 1850 to avenge a friends death and retrieve an ancient treasure."

Not so great is it?

Certainly lacks any Ooomph.

But I did manage to get everything into the one sentence, just like I was supposed to. I have introduced my character, “A man", his objectives, “Travel to Egypt and Avenge a friends death", and also the sense of the direction in which the story will head, which is explained with “and retrieve an ancient treasure".

Wow, alot of stuff in one simple little sentence.

But is it really any good?

Sure, why not.

Can I turn this into a Novel?

Of Course.

Could we improve on it and make it better?


In the next section I will show you how you can turn a simple premise like the one above, into a monster of a premise that you can use to write a great novel.

How Do I Write a Premise?

There are few successful novels that do not contain a good solid premise. Sure good novels can be written without initial planning or intention, but the premise is there even if the author did not plan it out in advance. But it is far easier and safer for you to approach your Novel with a good strong premise in hand rather than counting on luck or intuition to stick it in there for you.

So here are the steps that you can use when creating your premise.

1) Take your story idea, quickly write down one sentence that explains your entire story. Include who your story is about, what is going to happen to your Hero or Heroine. Also include the location where it is going to happen.

Keep it simple for now like I have in my example:

“A man travels to Egypt in 1850 to avenge a friends death and retrieve an ancient treasure."

2) Now you need to add to this basic premise. Keep in mind that your premise need not be artistic or creative, it needs to be functional. Start adding strong verbs and nouns to help enhance your premise.

Take your starting premise, from step 1, and start building it up. Keep questioning yourself as you write it in order to include more details in your new and improved version. And, do not forget that you can break the limitation of containing it within one sentence now that you are building and expanding upon your more basic ideas.

Here is what I came up with for the example I used in step 1:

“Upon hearing about the bloody murder of a close friend, a young man (our hero) undertakes an expedition to Egypt to find his friends killers. Once he arrives in Egypt his investigations and inquiries begin to unearth evidence of an age old secret society, and stories of a treasure that has been hidden for centuries. Circa 1850."

Is it War and Peace? No. But it is much better than what we had in step 1. Keep working at it until you have something that gets you excited.

There are a few things to remember when we begin building a premise. The more specific and clear your premise is, the better. For example the premise, “A guy goes out into the world and some stuff happens.", is not likely to help you to write the best novel that you are capable of. Also keep in mind that if your story is unclear in premise form, it is likely to be transfered to your novel as an unclear idea as well.

Your premise is not meant to be artistic or even pretty. You are not looking to create originality or a unique idea when you build your premise. Instead you are looking to set out the foundation to help support your developing story.

A premise on its own is nothing. In order for it to matter, you must take the time to build it up until it becomes an exciting representation of the story that you intend to tell. Use your premise as a tool to help you create the very best novel that you can.

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