Book Plan: premise
Let's get started with your book plan. First up, your premise.
Don't have your planner yet? Get started with the premise page by downloading it here.
So why do we write premises? What's the point of writing a premise? A premise is, first of all, a single sentence summary of your book's main idea. It's a really helpful tool as you work on your story for several reasons.
For the first reason, let's say you go to a writing conference or a writing retreat , and someone asks you, “Hey, what's your book about?” I've asked that question to probably hundreds of people. And sometimes you get an answer that's very specific and they know exactly what their book is about.
And sometimes you get like a 30 minute answer and it's very complicated. And by the end you sort of have not only the whole story, but the author's whole life story as well. And that's not very helpful especially when we're connecting with a lot of writers here. Or if let's say maybe you're pitching your book to an agent or a publisher, having a premise can be a very helpful thing at an event like this where you have to share your book idea and tell people what your book is about.
A premise is also kind of like a compass. When you get lost in the writing process, you have a guide to get yourself back on track. You can come back to your premise and this really crystallized, distilled picture of what your book is actually about, and you can use that to figure out where you got lost and try to find your way back there.
And actually, it's the most important part of a book proposal and a query letter. So if you're writing a query letter, if you're writing a book proposal for a memoir or a non-fiction book, having a premise can be very helpful. Right? And having something that you've been working on for a long time. For one book, I wrote, I think 1,027 versions of a premise that was actually for Crowdsourcing Paris. And it was just because I was trying to get to the bottom of the book. And I included it in all of my book proposals and all my query letters. And it was so helpful to have that.
It allows you to work on your idea. It's the first step in the process to actually take your idea and to start to put some skin on it.
It's so helpful.
The last reason you should have a premise is because it helps you simplify your idea. Because a lot of writers, when they're starting a hundred day book, when they're writing their first novel, they come to us with these amazing ideas, these very elaborate ideas.
They have like 11 different main characters, point of view characters, they're telling the stories of entire societies. Right. And I think that's amazing. And if you could pull it off but when it's write your first book and really if it's any book, honestly it's so much easier and often so much better to start with a really simple idea.
One of the biggest feedbacks that I give to writers when they're submitting their book plans is just about scope, thinking through the scope of their book. And so often we try as writers to bite off more than we can chew.
And instead, what I needed to do is just get really simple. Really get down to earth, really focused. I never learned to finish a book until I started learning how to write a premise. Having this tool can be so helpful and it will help you finish your book.
So simplify your idea, take a look at the scope of your book. And one of the best ways to take a look at the scope of your book is through a premise. Make sure. Okay. That you don't bite off more than you can chew. I'm just thinking more about this, that I realize several of us have finished their books in 100 Day Book and then realized what they actually wrote was three different books or two different books.
That's happened to me. It's happened to others in our community. And that's why a premise is so helpful. It helps you get really specific on what your book is about.
So let's look at an example to start thinking about what a premise is. And here's one, you probably recognize this book already.
A young girl is swept away to a magical land in a tornado and embarks on a quest to see the wizard who can help her return home.
Everyone knows what this is, right?
You got it. Wizard of Oz. Yep. Super easy. Right.
So let's break this down and talk about what is in a premise for a novel. This is for a novel specifically, also for screenplay, a young girl is swept away.
So you have three things in a premise for a novel: a character and a goal, and a situation, some kind of situation. Sometimes that looks like a crisis. Sometimes it looks like an antagonist.
So let's go back and break it down.
You have a young girl. That's the character, usually this should be described in two words. So you have like an adjective and announ, right? So a young girl, two words.
And then you have a goal. What is her goal? She wants to return home. Right?
And then she has a situation which is a crisis, an antagonist. She swept away to a magical land and, and tornado, and she has to go on the quest to return home. Okay.
So those three things, a character, a goal in a situation, if you're writing a novel, start to think about your idea for your premise right now and see if you can put it in those three things.
And by the way, you need to do this in one sentence. Okay. One sentence, all of those three things, character goal. Situation.
For my story. It's about these two friends, one of whom is a prodigy violinist and their goal is to become the Prodigy's goal is to become the best violinist in the world.
For the memoir writers amongst us.
Here's what we're going to do. For your memoir, you still want to have three things, write.
A character and that's going to be you. But here, you're going to talk about yourself in third person. And just describe yourself in two words, the same with the novel as an adjective and noun. Okay.
What is your situation that you are finding yourself in? Maybe it's the death of a child. Maybe it's a divorce, maybe it's cancer. Maybe it's a huge adventure. Maybe it's a self-discovery process, but whatever the, the situation is, put it there and last.
You have a lesson? What is the lesson that you're learning from the experience and here, especially for my memoir writing friends, I want you to think about scope. Okay. With memoir. It's so easy to just write about your entire life story from when you were first born to, you know, your third birthday, all the way up through junior high and middle school, and then, you know, high school and beyond and tell every single event in your life.
But that's not what memoir, what great memoirs do they take a section of your life? A very specific section. One situation, one lesson and they tell that story. You can't tell your whole life story in a memoir. So pick one thing. Okay. Just one and put it there in the lesson. What was the lesson that you learned from that situation, from that life experience?
So for my memoir, crowdsourcing Paris, my premise was when a cautious writer is forced by his audience. To do uncomfortable adventures in Paris. He learns the best stories come when you get out of your comfort zone. Okay. So a character cautious writer, again, two words here. So cautious is my adjective writer.
It's my noun. Okay. Problem or situation. My problem was I had to do all these adventures and it was uncomfortable.
And the lesson, the best stories come when you get out of your comfort zone. All right. Three things, character problem in the lesson.
If there are any non-fiction writers, I'll just say that you also want to include three things in your premise, a problem, a purpose and a solution. Okay. What problem are you trying to solve? What problem is your book trying to solve? What problem are your readers experiencing in their lives?
And then think about a person. A person might be one person. It might be you. The person you're, you're, you're talking about the person who solved that problem. Right? So that person might be you because you discovered the solution. It might be a community of people. A problem. So a problem person, that person might be someone you're profiling. Okay. But find that person and write it down. And then a solution. What is the solution to people's problems? How are they going to solve that problem? And by the way you should still try to get this down to one sentence.
But some nonfiction book proposals allow you a little bit more leeway. Sometimes you can have three to four sentences to solve that problem. I would still write a one sentence version and then maybe a one paragraph version, a lot of book proposals for non-fiction writers take, but proposal formats have one sentence and then a half page.
For your book's main idea. So having both is a good idea.
And if you're working on more historical books, you might use more of the novel or memoir, premises, but if you're writing more of a, how to, or a self-help kind of nonfiction book, then you want to have a problem, a solution, and an application.
All right. All right. So then I want you to put them together.