Step 1: Know Your Story – The Premise

At some point, you need to know exactly what your story’s about – to state it clearly and concisely. This is your premise.

If it takes more than ten seconds to explain it, you’ve lost your audience.

And yes, I mean the people reading your book – not just whoever you’re trying to explain it to. Your story will reflect the muddle of your thoughts – it’ll be all over the place.

It will have a heart. Find it. You just haven’t worked it out yet. You need to think in broad strokes, not detail. Overview stuff.

Try this formula (it works for me).

In 25 words or less, tell me who it’s about, what they want, who or what’s standing in their way, and the hook (the irony in the situation).

Example: “An immortal princess falls in love with a human boy while hunting the shapechanger that murdered her parents.”

Specific, yet only eighteen words. It also gives a pretty solid impression of the genre and audience.

The Breakdown:

  1. It’s about an immortal princess.
  2. She wants to find the shapechanger that murdered her parents.
  3. The shapechanger and her feelings for a human boy hinder her.
  4. She’s after revenge, but despite herself she falls in love.

So, how do you go about doing this for your own story?

Break it into four parts:

  • Part 1 – Who the story’s about. Don’t name them, just describe them. Ie, an immortal princess (could be a retired pirate, a corrupt cop, a mad inventor, whoever – be general, but clear and descriptive).
  • Part 2 – What they want. Ie, revenge – she’s hunting her parents’ killer (but a retired pirate might want to get back into the game, while a mad inventor might hope to go back in time and change the past).
  • Part 3 – What’s standing in their way. In this case, the shapechanger AND the love interest (in the case of a corrupt cop, it might be his own conscience, another cop, or anything else).
  • Part 4 – Show the irony in the situation (the hook). Ie, While seeking revenge, she falls in love (it’d be even better if she fell in love with the person she was seeking revenge on, but just falling in love in pretty ironic while she’s chasing vengence).

Those parts don’t necessarily have to be in order, but they do have to be there in some way.

What you should also do is give a clear indication of genre and audience.

If you can do this for each story you write, you’ll not only produce a stronger, tighter story, you’ll also have a better shot at selling it.

Here’s the one I wrote for my epic fantasy: A headstrong princess is forced into an unwanted destiny when assassins try to prevent her from ever fulfilling it.

What’s your premise? Post it in this page’s comments section and see what everyone thinks.

Step 2: Discover your theme.

8 thoughts on “Step 1: Know Your Story – The Premise

  1. Thank you, Chris.

    That’s the most succinct and precise approach to describing (and focusing) a novel that I’ve seen yet.

    My 25 words: “An alien escapes from an ancient enemy to find her species has vanished. The humans that she despises hold the clue to restoring her people.”

    • Thank you so much I needed this!

      Here’s mine: A confused girl and an orphaned prince fall in love as they search for a way back to Earth during the heat of war.

      • Hi Kaitlyn, nice premise. Gives a pretty good impression of the characters, the situation and genre. I’d ask which character is the more important though, and perhaps seek little bit more clarification about the threat to them (ie, is it the war or the journey – or something else entirely?). Otherwise it’s pretty tight. Good stuff.

  2. Hey, Chris,

    Have I told you lately, you have a way of explaining things in just a fashion that I can understand and follow them?

    Here is my 25 word premise. What do you think?

    An Elven sorceress discovers living dragons while finding out she’s the reincarnation of the leader of the dragon slayers credited with the extinction of dragons.

    • Thanks Jen!

      I like your premise. Solid. My only suggestion would be that you could boost the irony by implying a current relationship with the dragons that’s at odds with her previous life. Ie, is she now championing them? I think that might nail it.

  3. Here’s the new version. What do you think?

    An Elven sorceress, dating a dragon in disguise, finds out she’s the reincarnation of leader of the dragon slayers credited with the extinction of dragons.

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