Whether you’re writing a book, writing a novel, or even a screenplay, it’s tempting to just dive into your writing project. However, you will likely save yourself time and create a better end product if you settle on a solid premise before you start writing.
One quick note before we begin: writing a strong premise is the first step to writing a book. The second step is structuring your book. To learn more about how to structure a bestselling, award-winning box, check out The Write Structure, my new book how to apply the timeless structure principles of bestselling stories to your book. You can get it here for a limited time low price.
What is a Premise?
The definition of a premise is:
- “A proposition supporting or helping to support a conclusion,” according to Dictionary.com
- “The fundamental concept that drives the plot,” according to Wikipedia
As you can see, there are different definitions for premise depending on whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how fiction and nonfiction writers should write their premise.
Premise for Fiction Writers
If you’re writing fiction, your premise needs to contain three things in a single sentence:
- A protagonist in two words, e.g. young girl or a world-weary witch.
- A goal. What does the protagonist want or need?
- A situation or crisis the protagonist is facing.
Here’s an example from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum:
A young girl is swept away to a magical land by a tornado and must embark on a quest to see the wizard who can help her return home.
Again, three things:
- A protagonist in two words: a young girl
- A goal: return home
- A situation: swept away to a magical land by a tornado
One effective trick for defining one is to write a one-sentence logline that will become the foundation of your story. The logline is a tool used primarily by screenwriters, but it can be very helpful if you’re writing a novel or a short story.
Here’s an article about how to write a great logline.
Premise for Nonfiction Writers
For nonfiction writers, your premise is a two- to three-sentence summary of the main argument or narrative of the book. Here’s what Michael Hyatt says in his guide Writing a Winning Non-Fiction Book Proposal:
The premise is a two- or three-sentence statement of the book’s basic concept or thesis. Usually, it identifies the need and then proposes a solution.
Since this is the first part of every book proposal, it’s important to get it right. For example, for the last month I’ve been working and re-working mine for a book that I’m ghostwriting, trying to cast the right vision for our future book.
What Is Your Premise?
Do you want to write a book but aren’t sure where to start? Are you working on a book now and need some help refocusing?
Regardless of where you are in the process, it’s a good idea to spend some time writing a solid premise. You wouldn’t build a house without laying a strong foundation. In the same way, don’t start writing without writing a strong premise.
It might feel like an unnecessary step, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run. Give it a try!
Have you written a premise before? Do you have one for your work in progress? Let me know in the comments.
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Today, practice writing a premise for a new book or for your work in progress. Depending on whether you write fiction or nonfiction, use the tips above. Then, when you’re finished writing it, post your premise in the comments section for feedback. Afterward, read a few practices by other writers and let them know whether that’s a book you’d like to read.