1. It identifies viable ideas.
Condensing and solidifying an idea into apremise sentence gives you an immediate assessment of whether this ideawill stand up for the length of an entire story. Let’s take the what-if questionthat inspired my upcoming fantasy
(working title): “What if whatwe dreamed about was actually happening?” It’s a good idea. But we don’tknow it can carry the weight of a plot until we nail down the details in apremise sentence: “Renegade journalist Chris Redston discovers his dreamsare really memories of a world he lives in while he sleeps and which he will,reluctantly, have to fight to save from destruction.”
2. It solidifies characters, conflict, and plot.
A premise sentence forces youto identify a main character (as explicitly as possible: you’ll note my premisesentence indicates his name, his occupation, and a personality trait), acentral conflict, and, as a result, a general plot. Your what-if question givesyou an idea; your premise sentence gives you a story.
3. It distills the book’s essence.
In the madcap frenzy of creation,particularly in the early days of inspiration, it’s easy to be overwhelmed withall the colorful possibilities. A story has so many potential directions that itcan be difficult to select the best one. Sometimes you’ll be chapters into thestory before realizing you should have taken another path. A premisesentence is like a mini outline, one that’s useful to even those who dislikeoutlining. Writing down your idea (and it is important to actually
itdown) gives you a lodestone by which to direct the frigate of your story.
4. It guides you to the next question.
Once the premise sentence has givenyou the central crux of your story, the next step usually becomes obvious.Once I knew my premise for
, I knew some of the questions thatstill needed to be answered. What was this dream world like? Why was Christhe only one who discovered it? Why was it in danger of destruction?
5. It gives you an easy answer to questions about your story.
Well-meaning friends, family, and fans ask, “So what’s your new story about?” andyou hem and haw, flustered by the difficulties of explaining a 300 page novelin a few words. The easy solution is to offer them your premise sentence. It’san answer that both satisfies their curiosity and allows you to appearconfident and prepared.
6. It prepares you for selling your work.
Finally, creating a premisesentence early in your writing process prepares you for pitching your work toagents, who inevitably require a concise, gripping description of your story. If you start now, you can polish it to perfection by the time you’re ready to startshopping your book.