Do You Know the Basics in Premise?
by AP Von K'Ory
There are three elements that have to be included in a strong premise with a single sentence:
1. Main character: Your story premise should include a brief description of your protagonist, such as “the orphaned Kenyan girl Khira” or “the Swedish industrialist Erik” (from my award-winning Bound to Tradition trilogy)
2. Your protagonist’s goal: For the premise to be solid, you also need to include your main character’s desires or needs. (Khira has a father-complex, Erik wants to protect Khira as a father, but he also can’t fight the “unethical” sexual pull she encourages in him)
3. The situation or obstacle: In your premise, there has to be an extraordinary situation or a crisis that presents your protagonist with some obstacles or dilemma. Example: (young Khira comes from a conservative and homogeneous Luo family, Erik is confronted with the fact of their 24-year age difference and their diverse racial backgrounds)
How do You Write a Strong Premise?
4 Steps for Creating a Strong Premise
As writers, we tend to shun anything that demands what I dub “conmanship” – the ability to use words and phrases that make good ads. We’re quite able and happy to tell 120K words of lies but hopeless to come up with 150 words to seduce the reader. We even get through writer’s block successfully. So how should we show off our writing skills if we don’t have a story premise to begin with?
Below is a blow-by-blow approach that I found easy to follow and come up with that surefire story premise:
1. Start with a theme. As writers of whichever ilk, short stories or novellas included, we begin with a theme that interests us. The theme directs us to the POV and premise of our story. We delve in real-life problems we’re interested in exploring. My Bound to Tradition Trilogy was influenced by my own experience in an interracial marriage. Your theme can be anything from politics to biology. Contaminated water supplies to technology. Religion to pop culture. Whatever. But you have to nail down your theme from the onset of your creative writing. The theme is your road map that assists you to sort out your story structure and premise.
2. To begin with, ask yourself simple questions. Once you’re decided on the essence of your idea, ask yourself simple questions such as the plot, the character, the setting, incidences and so on. Then, ask yourself the “What if?” question we all have heard about so often: What if a cat could fly? What if AI turns into world dictatorship? What if you discover that your mother is not your biological mother on your wedding day? Answering these questions will assist in expanding that essence of your idea into finally becoming a full-fledged idea and solid premise.
3. Your characters must have a strong motivation. A character’s motivation makes for great premises. Take my example of discovering your mother is not your biological mother, and then doing so on your wedding day. That alone provides a gripping first sentence of the first chapter. Now ask whether this discovery occurred while dressing up for the wedding, or already kneeling at the altar, or during the wedding reception. Then ask yourself what happens next as a consequence of this. What if the bride is already pregnant and the groom now suddenly wants to be sure the baby is truly his, but they are already man and wife? What if the whole family turns against the only woman who has raised the groom with so much love and care? The woman the groom still loves as his mother? Start with a simple character motivation that will assist in developing other parts of your premise as well.
4. Hone your ability to explain your premise clearly in as few words as you can. The fewer words you use the better. When you’re decided on your basic story idea, ensure it can be explained simply and quickly. You can jot down your premise, then speak it out loud. Are there words in it you can eliminate extraneously without losing your point? In crafting your premise, brevity is king, however long your final work will be. And, regardless of whether it’s a novel or screenplay, brevity is also king if you’re sending query letters to potential agents or publishing editors. They tend to skim the premise to help them make up their mind on whether to read the rest or not. A premise that proves too wordy or confusing will get your work ignored. High or low concept, your premise should be explainable to anybody – book buyer or reader – in a few seconds.
Bound to Tradition - A Trilogy from AP Von K'Ory
Bound to Tradition – Book 1 The Dream, by A P Von K’Ory
Bound to Tradition – Book 2 The Initiation, by A P Von K’Ory
Bound to Tradition – Book 3 The Separation, by A P Von K’Ory
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