Writing

Premise in Writing (Definition, How To Write + Examples)

Posted: January 3, 2023
Word count: 1,319 (5 min)

Premise is the essential base of a story, or the key point of the writing. It is that one sentence that can summarize everything that will happen in the text.

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Co-founder & Chief Editor, Best Writing

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What is a premise?

A premise is the most important part of story writing. Without a premise the story is an empty shell. Premise is the essential base of a story, or the key point of the writing.

It is that one sentence that can summarize everything that will happen in the text. Premise is the first step in writing fiction or a full-fledged novel.

The core idea of a book is a premisse, which can be written in two sentence statement. Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines premise as a "statement or an idea that forms the basis for a reasonable line of argument".

Origin

The word premise comes from Latin praemittere, prae meaning 'before and mittere meaning 'send'.

Why do writers use a premise in writing?

A writer is lost without a premise. Premises act as a guildline for the writer as well as a road map for the reader. It bridges the gap between reader and the author serving both parties in navigating the creative work.

Helps You Begin

Premise is the birth of a strong story. A strong premise often begets a bestselling novel. As an author the first thing you should do is to think of a story premise.

Having a premise solves issues of plot, story structure, main character and so on.

To Highlight a Foundational Idea

Once you have a premise, you have something to build on. Premise in writing is the foundation of your book and rather than letting your ideas haywire you should stick to your premise and build plots, characters, conflicts around it.

Pushes You During Writer's Block

Since premise acts as a guideline, you know how to get back in that writing loop if you are ever stuck. Premise is the caricature an author builds on.

A solid premise will keep you grounded and make the writing process so much easier.

What are the components of the premise?

Pro tip: Premise can sound a lot like synopsis. After all, both are summaries right? But no. A premise can be boiled down a told in a single sentence but a synopsis cannot be. A synopsis is longer and a more detailed summary.

The Protagonist(s)

The premise should include the primary character of your story and a single word detail about them - quick note on who the character is.

Phrases like "world weary witch", "homeless teenage girl", "lonely old banker", "resilient cancer survivor", are some examples of how character description should look like in your premise.

The Mission of the Protagonist(s)

The premise should also include what the purpose of your character is. This part may include the setting of the story and set the mood for the arrival of the challenge.

The goal can be defined only in terms of a challenge the character(s) faces and can sound something like.

Rich young girl finds herself in a deserted island filled with wild animals.

The premise should have an inciting incident that will hook the reader and make them want to read the story.

The Conflict

The conflict is the main selling point of the story premise which gives a purpose to the main character and takes the story forward, toward a resolution.

An inciting incident is a kickstart to a good premise and the centre of attraction for novels or story ideas. Write a premise around a conflict which is to be solved by the protagonist.

Man sets out to trace the missing of his boyfriend's only child in a dark deserted island.

This premise has a challenge, that is the recovery of the child, the setting is mysterious and creates suspense, has a protagonist and the result is unknown: the readers need to read and find out.

Examples of Good Premise in Writing

Examples of some great premise for you to brainstorm and start writing.

"In this harrowing tale of good and evil, the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll develops a potion that unleashes his secret, inner persona—the loathsome, twisted Mr. Hyde."

(The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson)

Scientiest Victor Frankenstein sets out to perform advanced laboratory experiments but discovers "a successful experiment does not always equal a positive outcome".

(Frankenstein, Mary Shelley)

"The novel tells the story of the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family."

(One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

"A rehearsal is in progress when the actors are suddenly interrupted by six mysterious people, who demand to be put in a play. They are the characters of a story yet to be written."

(Six Characters in Search of An Author, Luigi Pirandello)

"When world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned to a Swiss research facility to analyze a mysterious symbol—seared into the chest of a murdered physicist—he discovers evidence of the unimaginable: the resurgence of an ancient secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati...the most powerful underground organization ever to walk the earth."

(Angels and Demons, Dan Brown)

How to Write a Good Premise

A good premise should touch on a few things to become great.

Have a Theme

A story's premise should reflect the theme that is in it. For example, the premise from Frankenstein quoted above, it is understandable that something has gone wrong with Victor Frankenstein's experiment and there are consequences to be suffered.

A premise should resonate the theme of the book giving the readers a heads up on what experience they are about to have while reading the book.

A theme also helps the author keep themselves grounded during writing the text.

Think of Protagonist's Goals

All of protagonist's action might revolve around that goal. Having goal in the premise can keep the story centred, but remember not to put the resolution. That would be a bummer!

Think of Resolution

But yes, think of a resolution to the conflict you have used or how the protagonist achieves the goal they have to.

A premise should not say more that what is required nor too less that readers are not intrigued after reading it.

Put Things in Simple Terms

A premise should not be very complicated. It should lead from point A to point B to point C and back to point A without having the reader to sit and decipher the whole thing. Using simple terms to explain is one of the majorly underrated writing skills.

Summary

A premise in writing is an one sentence or two sentence statement that sums up what the astory is about. It gives a clear idea what the reader is going to read or learn about. It is the core idea of a text.

A good story has a strong premise.

A clear premise is very important while writing because:

(a) helps the writer with the beginning of the story;

(b) help create a foundation for the story;

(c) captures the story's essence;

(d) keeps the writer grounded;

A premise is a proposition supporting the whole book. It sets the tone, pace, and mood of the narrative. The premise is a trailer to the journey a reader is about to take. How to write a good premise?

Set the theme, create main character, give them challenge or conflict. And write in simple words.

It is quite difficult to write premise for a short story. In that case the aim is to write one to two words about the key highlights and create a suspense of sort. The idea is to boil down the essence and write one short sentence for an already short story. That is why many writers struggle to write a hooking premise for their short stories.

In conclusion, write a killer premise to grab the reader's attention. Create a sense of suspense. As Suzzane Collins says,

May the odds be ever in your favor!The Hunger Games

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