Novel Idea Workshop: Lesson 3
In this series you’ll learn how to take your idea and turn it into a solid plan that will help you finish your novel.
We’ve already talked about two elements of a single-sentence novel premise: the goal and the protagonist. In this third lesson we’re going to focus on the third and final element, the situation.
For me, this is usually the hardest part of writing a premise because how do you take a whole book, a huge story, and capture it all in a single sentence? And the answer of course is that you don’t! You can’t! But what you can do is get the single most important bit. And if you can figure out what the most important bit of your premise is, then you instantly have made a compass, something that will guide you in your writing process whenever you get lost. This single sentence can save your novel writing process!
To learn more about this step, let’s use a really great novel idea from Nora Amel:
A young girl with no fantastical powers -in a world where most everyone has powers- has to save her long lost father from the clutches of an evil emperor with the help of a ship full of rebels.
This is amazing, Nora. Super interesting story idea, and great work on your premise.
Alright, so we have a protagonist, a young girl. And then we have a goal: she wants to save her long lost father, which is perfect.
Last we have a situation: which I would say is she has no powers on a world where most people DO have powers and she has to rescue her father from an evil emperor. She also is working with a ship full of rebels, which is great.
Great work Nora. Honestly, this is a great example of a premise done right. Nora has done a tremendous amount of worldbuilding in just a few words, and one thing I really like about it is how she’s incorporated the antagonist. One of the best ways to get to the heart of your situation is to introduce the antagonist, in this case an evil emperor. If you don’t have an antagonist, that’s okay too. Just try to focus on the biggest problem the character is facing in the story.
If we take another look at the story graph we looked at in lesson 1, it’s helpful here to think about the inciting incident, the event that kicks off the action of the story, and also the climax over here, where the character is finally confronting that antagonist or that big problem.
You can see from Nora’s story, that’s exactly what she did. She has her father’s kidnapping, which I’m guessing is the inciting incident, and confronting the evil emperor, which is probably the climax.
If you find this extremely difficult, first, you’re not alone. It IS difficult. You might not even know what the heart of your story is yet, and I’m asking you to describe it in a single sentence. So don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this or don’t get it right.
BUT if you find that there’s NO WAY you can fit your story into a single sentence, that might be a red flag. One thing new writers (and experienced writers!) do a lot is that we try to fit too much story into one book. You CAN’T DO EVERYTHING in one novel. The best stories are as narrow and as focused as possible. They don’t try to tell everything. They try to tell one story really well. So if you’re struggling getting your story into a single sentence, ask yourself, “Am I trying to do too much with this story? And if so, can this be split into multiple books? Or do I need to cut out elements so I can focus on what really matters?
Now, if you’ve written your premise and you’re ready for the next step in your novel writing process, then I have great news for you, because that’s what we’re going to talk about in Lesson 4. This is going to be our best lesson yet, so be on the look out for that.
Thanks everyone, and until then, happy writing!