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How To Write A Premise

Drafting a strong premise is one of the first steps in writing a book. It’s your main idea that explains what happens (plot) – in one or two sentences.

It’s the GPS system of your book that will guide you, ensuring you’re writing the right thing. (Remember, what we don’t write is as important as what we do write.)

The premise is also what a potential literary agent will look at when reviewing your book submission.

Developing a solid premise has other benefits; it tests whether your big idea can be developed into a story, it helps flesh out your narrative arc, and ultimately it will save you time.

The stakes are high but spend time in this area now and reap the rewards later.

When working on your premise, it should include three things:

1. Protagonist

Who is your main character and what is their defining characteristic?

2. Situation / Inciting Incident

What is the new situation or new world that your main character finds themselves in and what incident propelled them into that world?

3. Goal

What does your protagonist want? What is his or her objective?

Here's an example based on the fairy-tale, Cinderella:

Protagonist: Cinderella, a kind-hearted girl

Situation / Inciting Incident: She is under the rule of her evil stepmother who treats her like a slave. She is in this situation because her parents died.

Goal: Cinderella wants to escape from servitude and live happily in the castle.

Once you have these three elements, you can then condense the information down into one or two sentences.

Here are a few tips to help you develop your premise:

1. Expand your idea

Last week, I shared a post on how to come up with ideas for your book. Use your favourite idea as your starting point to develop it into a premise. Brainstorm and map out different possibilities. You may find that one idea can have multiple options.

2. Get clear on character motivation

It’s not just about what your character does, but why? What are the motivations driving the actions of your main character? This will help you develop your character's goal.

3. Review your themes

Every story has conflicting themes whether that’s love versus hate, good versus evil, maturity versus naiveté and so on. What themes are you looking to explore in your story and how do they impact your protagonist?

4. Edit your premise

As you start to tie the three elements into a single premise, edit ruthlessly and make every word count. You need to get your idea across as clearly as possible, so keep it simple.

5. Take your time

Developing a premise is no small task so don’t be tempted to rush it. You will be using the highest levels of creativity as well as your intuition, so take the time to listen to it carefully. This is an exciting part of writing your book and you want to get it right.



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Karen Osman with her novel The Perfect Lie


I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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