Focusing On The Premise

 By Rachel Hauck
Premise
Every story needs a basic start: a premise. It’s the
foundation for your idea. 
The premise defines what’s at stake? What the story is
about?
“What will the protagonist overcome to achieve her goal?”
A great premise is the “hook” that grabs the attention of an
editor, agent or reader.
Creating a Story Premise?

A story premise defines what the story is about. It doesn’t
have to be fancy or artful, but a solid one or two line definition.
Without a solid premise, your novel will falter. Why?
Because after the opening scenes, you’ll flounder on where to go next. You’ll
begin to widen the idea of your story, add on obstacles or disasters that have
nothing to do with the original character journey. You’ll shift your weak
premise to an even weaker one.
Road trips are fun, right? There are days we like to get in
the car and just drive. But it’s rare we go farther than a few hours down the
road before we start asking, “Where are we going? What are we doing? Should we
turn back or go on?”
A road trip is always more fun and more relaxing if we know
where were going and why. Even if it’s just a “because” road trip.
 Writing a novel is
the same way. A blast of an idea is great until you sit down to write it. Then
what? 
Where to next? Even if you blaze out 50 or 100 pages, without a solid
premise, you’re looking at a massive rewrite.
Premise Examples

The Great Gatsby is about a man watching the destruction of
a frivolous, rich man in the ‘20s, and how it destroys the people around him.
My Fair Lady is about a street vendor taken in by a rich,
cultured man to be groomed to charm kings.
Die Hard is about a rouge New York City cop arriving in Los
Angles to woo his wife but ends up saving hostages from terrorists.
Romeo and Juliet is about young lovers triumphing over their
warring families by choosing love even unto death in order to be together.
A good premise highlights the main character, the story
problem and hints at the goal or resolution.
It shows what’s at stake, what the protagonist wants. It’s
specific. It’s focused.
A premise isn’t about a thing or a place. It’s about a
character and a problem.
Think of your story. What’s it about? What’s at stake.
What’s the story question? Now, write it down.
When I wanted to write about a hundred year old wedding
dress worn by four women over the hundred years span, I focused on the women
and the dress.
Premise: The Wedding Dress is about a beautiful wedding gown
that links the lives of four women over a hundred years. The dress never wears
out, never has to be altered and is always in style. And fits the heart of
every bride.
As I wrote the story, I kept in mind the importance of the
dress to each character and how the gown played a roll in each woman’s life.
Every obstacle and goal had to fit the premise of four women discovering and
wearing the same gown.
Conflict and Tension

The premise can hint at the conflict and tension of the
story. In the movie, The Proposal, Margaret needs to be an American citizen to
keep her job. Drew, her assistant, is her only hope.
Premise: High powered, aggressive NY editor is going to be
deported to Canada and lose her job unless she finds a way to stay in America. 
Her overworked assistant editor is her only hope. But he has dreams and
aspirations of his own. As they strike a deal love takes over and changes their
lives.
We see right away that Margaret and Drew each want
something. We get they are at odds. We see the only way they can succeed is if
they work together.
Great premise.
Pitfalls to Avoid

It’s easy to overload a story. Once a premise is defined,
it’s tempting to add more conflict or more obstacles. 
Let’s look at The
Proposal again. What if we thought the idea needed more conflict to sell. What
if the writer really wanted the Hollywood studio to see all the possible conflict
these two protagonists would face.
What if the premise went like this?
Premise: High powered, aggressive NY editor is going to be
deported to Canada and lose her job unless she finds a way to stay in America.
Her overworked assistant editor is her only hope. But he has dreams and
aspirations of his own. 
As they strike a deal love takes over and changes their
lives. But then Margaret’s number one author lets her down, and Drew’s ex
girlfriend comes on the scene. Margaret and Drew aren’t sure they can pull off
the fraud, so she leaves to try to woo her author while Drew resigns his job to
chase his ex fiancés.
Okay, that last bit just took the story in a completely
different direction. Now we have Margaret starting off on a new goal that will
have it’s own obstacles. 
Drew also has a new story goal and the premise of
helping his boss to stay in the country to get what he wants – a promotion and
a manuscript he discovered published – has changed completely. 
It will take too
long to bring them back together and have a happily ever ending between the two
of them.
Rules For Creating a
Premise

Focus your premise on the main story goal.
Don’t overload your premise. Keep it tight.
Define your character, what’s a stake, goal and the
resolution.
As You Write

Keep the premise in front of you. It’s the “spine” of your
story. Every obstacle and goal must fit on the spine.
 If your story is about a
waitress falling in love with the cop who shot her father, then every scene and
chapter is about discovering each other, love, and the truth of her father. 
It
can’t be about her desire to leave the job for a high powered job in Miami. It
can’t be about his desire to join the FBI. It’s about love and truth. Make
sense?
Develop a premise. Keep it tight.
 Happy writing!