What is a Story Premise and Why is is So Important?
Once you know your premise, it will make writing your story much easier and quicker.
Using a premise as a starting point is about creating a CONCRETE idea that will not allow you to drift and wallow in self-indulgence.
A premise is a rudder and a steering wheel.
It’s a road map for your fiction writing.
Let me explain why in terms easier to understand.
In the visual arts, that is: TV and the movies, the premise is EVERYTHING.
People will give you millions of dollars for a great premise for a show BUT it must be specific and compelling.
Think about the TV shows you love and then summarize them.
A bestselling author and a female New York cop investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. CASTLE
A Smithsonian anthropologist and an FBI agent investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. BONES
An ex Baseball player and a private eye investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. PRIVATE EYES
Notice any kind of pattern here?
As you can see, there doesn’t have to be anything particularly original about a premise.
Besides, original doesn’t mean what you think it does.
In many ways, ORIGINAL really means the SAME but DIFFERENT.
Do these above examples help us understand a premise? Perhaps.
A dictionary definition is more specific:
“A premise is a proposal from which a conclusion can be drawn.”
Actually, a bit like a s scientific theory: a mix of “ingredients” that will result in some kind of magical formula — for a hit show or a bestselling book.
In this definition, the premise is the concrete idea that drives a story. It’s a story’s reason to be. The inspiration and MORE — the end result becomes inevitable BECAUSE of the way the PROPOSAL (the FORMULA) plays out.
And as we all know, the deepening of these various “relationships” MUST end in consummation and often marriage EVEN THOUGH this will always destroy the original premise!
Think of a premise for a story now.
For instance, a character finds a magic stone that makes him invisible.
He decides to rob a bank with it and become rich.
Now, if you’re any kind of fiction writer, you can see where this is going.
It will no doubt end badly.
But already the premise is suggesting a structure — even a character type and possible scenario.
PLUS, if your ultimate message is going to be that having a magic stone will get you put in prison, your message — and your moral code — is already going to be intrinsic to your story outlines.
Now, if you follow the modern trend and make your protagonist somewhat successful in his first “evil” endeavor, then you’re indulging in a kind of moral ambiguity — and perhaps eliciting sympathy for a bad guy before his “inevitable” downfall. This is good, to be expected.
Here, by thinking through our premise, we’re beginning to touch on THEME — which is really an expression of our internal world — and a reflection of our ethical viewpoint.
If you were writing this magic stone story, where would you stand?
Can the magic stone be good?
Can the character be IMPROVED by having a relationship with the magic stone — without your story seeming trite and predictable?
This is a great time to test your story for originality — BEFORE you write it.
And you do that by asking pertinent questions about your theme and premise BEFORE you start the
Invent a premise Then ask yourself:
Is it BOLD? Which means:
Is it Believable?
Is it Original?
Is it Logical?
Is it Durable?
Finally, ask yourself:
What can I do to make the premise better, more interesting, more compelling — but still in line with my value system?