How confident are you in your story premise?
Picture this. You’re at a writing conference. Someone has just asked, “what’s your story about?” You brace yourself for the proverbial elevator pitch. Your ability to answer succinctly and with clarity goes a long way toward presenting yourself as a confident writer telling an intriguing tale.
The opportunity or necessity will present itself at interesting moments—planned or not. For minutes—no, seconds—you have the chance to distill your 80,000 words, 10 years, 12 drafts, and countless cups of coffee into one sentence.
Are you ready?
Story premise as conversation
Remember when it was just you and three friends deciding on which movie to watch. You have one in mind. One you’d love to see again. But you only have a minute to make a case for your choice because everyone’s talking fast, and the margaritas are almost ready. What words would capture their interest?
Maybe, you find yourself at a party (remember those?) sharing a mutual love of the TV show “Community” with a charming stranger who asks what you’re working on. You don’t know they’re a literary agent, but if your answer compels, I’m sure they’ll soon share that fact. You’ve already made a genuine connection with them. Now is the time to share your story premise with gusto.
“Fortune favors the prepared mind”
Be prepared. Remember, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” So said Louis Pasteur, and he knew a thing or two about creating something compelling and important.
Just as your story’s characters are revealed by their actions, you, as a writer, are revealed to the world by what you write. Your answer to this basic question is your writerly book cover, blurb, and opening line.
I don’t mean to pile more pressure on you, and I don’t mean for you to fabricate. The “what” of your story already exists on paper or computer. What I’m asking you to think about is basically a summary. You already have the skills. You’ve been doing this all your life.
We have all been called upon to summarize. From the moment your mother says “use your words,” to those high school compare and contrast essays to the abstract on your first professional journal article. We quickly learn that those summaries are important—sometimes the most important because it’s the only thing most people listen to or read. Some never make it past the cover or the back jacket copy.
Story premise from book visuals
What promise does it give for what’s inside? Does the cover suggest a romance story, a space opera, or a fantasy world? Take a look at book covers in your genre and notice commonalities and trends.
Think of your story premise as the book cover. What does it look like? Visualize the scene, the colors, the font, and the sheen. The book cover to the right suggests a magical world fit for children.
Next, think of the back cover copy as a short story synopsis. Also known as the blurb or flap copy, these 100-250 words should encapsulate the protagonist, their goal, stakes, and what stands in the way. These imagination-grabbing details reach deeper into your characters, their world, and circumstances. It’s all there in your hands. Or perhaps, for now, your mind. There is no need to stress over the word premise. Write about the images bubbling up from your imagination.
When you’ve written down a few ideas for your story premise, say them aloud. Listen to the rhythm. Use active verbs and pay attention to the sentence’s forward motion.
Pretend you’re in your happy place—your writing room, a shady hammock, a shower. No pressure. Just soothing warm water and fragrant suds. Now, sing your story premise into the universe. What’s it about? You’ve got this.