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Novel Basics - The Premise

September 1, 2019

 

I belong to several writer groups, all of which include writers at various stages of their literary journey: from rank beginners to accomplished amateurs to award-winning, published authors.  None of them are big-name authors whose works have been made into mini-series. Those paragons are much too busy to hang out with the plebes, but once in a while, a big-name author may show up and dispense valuable advice to our group, which we study like holy writ. 

 

Invariably, the utter lack of preparedness of some of the beginners shocks me, until I remember I was once one of them.  I thundered through some thirty thousand words of the first draft of my first novel, before realizing I had no idea what I was doing. It was a thump-down on my seat, smack upside the head type of revelation. Where was my book going? 

 

On the off chance that someone reading this post may be in that very situation, I offer my humble advice:

 

You have an idea, right? A story, an anecdote, that has grabbed you, that roars around inside your head and will not let you go until you write it down? Good! That's the beginning. Perhaps you, too, are thirty thousand words into it. Do you have premise? I'm guessing, not. I didn't. "What's a premise?" I asked my patient editor. This after I had sent her a hundred-thousand word manuscript.

 

The premise is a short, one or two sentence description of what your book is about. It will include your main protagonist character, what he/she wants to do more than anything else, what's holding him/her back, and who is working against him/her (the antagonist.) It must include conflict, without which your book will be a snooze fest. Here's a simple example:

 

"A teen boy desperately wants to make the high school football team, despite his parents' opposition and competition from the team captain."

 

As premises go, it is clear, includes conflict and the main characters, but it's a tad boring. It needs something else: originality, and a strong emotional connection to the reader. (Thanks, Donald Maass.)

 

Write out your premise, right now. Go ahead. I need to get dinner on anyway... 

 

Got it? Will it grab the reader and force them to read until they can't hold their eyes open any longer? Or... not?

 

Try rewriting with more guts, more extremes, more risks. See if you like this example better:

 

"A visually impaired boy, Nathan, desperately wants to be a high school football hero to impress the girl he has a crush on (Juliana), but his overprotective parents don't want him playing any sports, let alone football; the coach wants a state championship and isn't about to cut the boy any slack in tryouts, and the team captain is a bully determined to keep Nathan off the team, and away from Juliana."

 

Now we have multiple barriers Nathan must overcome in order to win Juliana. Much more interesting.

 

If you like your premise, it can be a solid guide for outlining, then writing your book. If the book strays too far from the premise, be sure the detour is worth taking. You don't want your book to wander from your protagonist's main goal, or readers may lose interest. But if the detour begins to turn into the main show, your premise may need revising, and that's okay. You can do it!

 

What is the premise of your book, whether in-progress or published? Having trouble writing yours? Leave your comments below. I promise to read and respond to them all.

 

 

 

 

 

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