When you’re deciding how to write a story, the important first step is to create your premise.
What is a Premise?
When you write a story it needs to be about something. That something is the premise. It’s the central idea, an intriguing set-up or a situation that makes people want to read or watch further. It should inspire the writer to create a story and the reader to read one. It’s usually an open question in the form of ‘what would happen if… ?‘
Robert McKee, in his book Story, calls the premise
the daydreamy hypothetical that floats through the mind, opening the door to the imagination where everything and anything is possible.- Story, Robert McKee
Let’s look at some examples:
The premise of the movie Groundhog Day (1993): ‘what if you lived the same day over and over again?’
It’s short, it’s brief and provocative. It’s the kind of story you want to continue to watch.
The premise of the book The Fermata by Nicholson Baker: ‘what if you could pause the world and use it as your own pleasure ground?’
Again. The premise just makes you want to pick up the book and read.
Ingredients of a Good Premise
A good premise should be:
- framed as an interesting ‘what if…?’
- contains a character, a conflict and a hook
- reveals a larger world
- contains universal appeal
- 25 – 35 words max
- an idea that jumps out at you
- gets you passionate about the idea
- in the present tense
- easily understood by a 15 year old
- the same as other stories but different
Many writers waste a lot of time trying to improve a story that’s not worth telling because their premise is flat. Many good and great writers suggest you create your premise before you write a story.
Benet Simon & Mike Mindel
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