You’ve completed your novel. You’re thrilled and you’re telling everyone you know about it. You happily relate this to a friend at a party. She, of course, asks that inevitable question.
“What’s your book about?”
If your response was a series of ramblings, an excuse about how it’s hard to sum up 400 pages, or a series of rapid blinks, you’re in the right place.
It’s an ugly and slightly demoralizing situation, my friend. I know because I’ve been there.
A million thoughts hit my brain. I start mentally scrolling through every character, plot, and scene, wondering which ones should make the cut. By this time, of course, the person who asked is sorry she did and is now wondering if that book , like my description of it, is all in my head.
So, how do we avoid this embarrassing scene? Write the premise BEFORE you write your book. Here are three reasons you’ll be glad you did.
Writing the Premise First Gives Your Story Direction
The premise is the heart of your novel boiled down into a single sentence, typically consisting of 25 words or less. The premise should describe your heroine, the situation she’s up against, and what she proceeds to do about it.
In K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, she walks writers through crafting a premise for their novels. She approaches the process with an idea of the storyline and the characters in mind. Then she boils it down to a single sentence that conveys the essence of the story.
Why is developing the premise for your story so important?
Your goal is to create a sentence that conveys the characters, setting, and central conflict…in the most specific way possible. [B]eing able to focus your story into such a compact package will help you stay on track throughout your outline and first draft. ~ K.M. Weiland.
Be clear on what the story is about from the outset. The premise serves as a guidepost that keeps us focused as we write. Starting out with a rock-solid premise will reduce the tendency to wander off on irrelevant, dead-end plot lines.
You’ll Be Glad You Did When It’s Time to Write Your Synopsis
There are few things that make authors crazier than writing the dreaded synopsis. The truth is, with a simplified method like the one Nicola Morgan outlines in Write A Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide, it isn’t such a dreaded task after all. She provides two methods for creating a well-crafted synopsis. The first is to slash and burn your novel down to it’s key elements. The other is to start with the heart of your story (i.e. the premise) and build up.
Like Nicola, I find the second method easier. But guess what makes that process even easier? You guessed it. Writing the premise before you write the book.
Approaching the synopsis with a clear, definitive premise in mind prevents us from
tearing out our hair banging our heads against the wall sifting through the entire story in an attempt to sum it up in twenty-five words or less.
Whether we plan to secure an agent, or approach a publisher directly, we will eventually need a synopsis to sell our story. Crafting the premise before writing the story makes writing the synopsis easier.
No More Deer-in-the-Headlights Reactions
Remember that fear-inducing exchange in the beginning? Now imagine you’re at a writing conference, or in your local cafe, and you run into your dream agent. You strike up a conversation and eventually she says…
“Tell me about your book.”
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. But rather than giving her a well-prepared pitch that has her salivating for more, your response is the one we described in the outset.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Write your premise before you write your book and you’ll eliminate that deer-in-the-headlights moment from EVER HAPPENING AGAIN. That alone makes it totally worth it.
Screenwriter and novelist, Alexandra Sokoloff, makes the importance of developing a succinct, effective premise from the outset abundantly clear in her post, Nanowrimo Prep: What’s Your Premise?. She also offers some fantastic examples of well-written premises, based on popular movies and books. As soon as you’re done here, go read that post. Seriously.
Drafting the premise before we start writing the story keeps the story focused as we write; helps us draft an effective synopsis; and enables us to talk to an agent or potential readers intelligently about our book.
Have you developed the premise for your book? Did you write it before you started, or after the book was written? What advantages might there be to writing the premise after you’ve written the story? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.