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Beginning with Plot


Article Team
And last point (lol) the wider you make the "irony" gap, the more comedic or tragic you make your story.



A renowned army commander, revered by Ceaser as more worthy than his own son, is forced to fight for his life as a Gladiator slave. (Note the massive gap between being a highly revered military commander, almost chosen by Ceaser himself to rule Rome, having to fight for scraps in the colosseum as entertainment. If he had already been a slave it wouldn't have been as interesting or tragic. What makes it so tragic is how far he had to fall).

But you can do the same thing to write a comedy.

Legally Blonde

"A dumb blonde bombshell tries to prove her worth by getting her degree at Harvard Law."

Tragedy is almost always a huge fall while comedy is almost always a huge rise in status.
Compelling Mental Picture

You have to be able to show the whole story in the premise. A great premise will bloom in your brain. You see the story or at least the potential for it. But this is also where you show what TYPE of story it is. Is it comedy? Drama? Epic? A heist?

This is where you have to decide what your focus is. For example, if I say:

"A control-obsessed con woman reluctantly works one last job with a reckless new recruit, and learns that when it comes to matters of the heart, not everything can be planned."


"A con woman desperate to escape the criminal underbelly reluctantly works one last job and soon learns that the outside world may be more corrupt than the criminal life she had known."

They may both be the same story, but one is obviously romance, and the other is obviously about her coming to terms with her "criminal family" and where she belongs.

So a good premise tells you where the focus of the story is.

I just wanted to say this is a great example, and that focus is one of the ways that a premise statement can serve as a great guide when writing.

Whether a story will be told as a romance or type of character story (a la the MICE quotient) will make a great difference in the types of scenes that might be included, the particular plotting elements and their order chosen for the story, and even at the granular level for how the scenes will be written.

When considering a premise statement before beginning to write the story, the things included in the premise statement will receive focus over other things because they are key to the premise of the whole story. This focus will often take form as a continual reappearance of elements from the premise.

So for instance, if the above story is a romance, then the scene of the two characters scoping out a target and discussing a best approach will have somewhat different dialogue (in the way they speak to each other) than would be the case if the story is a character story about the MC wanting to escape the criminal underworld. When these characters are observing each other during the conversation (say, the story is written in third omniscient) or when one observes the other (third intimate POV), the things observed and the corresponding thoughts will be different if it's a romance tale.

If the con woman is "control-obsessed," as in the romance version of the story, this aspect of her personality will reappear in many contexts and be suggested in multiple ways because we'll need to show that she is control-obsessed–and keep that aspect of her character in the mind of the reader as he reads. We also might need to create a specific scene or two, or specially design an already planned scene, to show the scope of this personality trait.

I would note that in the second story, about her wanting to escape a life in the underworld, she can still have elements of that personality trait. But it's not going to receive the same kind of focus. The story won't turn as much on this trait.

Another example from your premise statement for Jaws:

"A small town cop, a marine researcher and a vengeful sailor work together to stop a man-eating shark from destroying a small beach town that relies on tourism to stay alive."

So let's suppose the story Jaws didn't already exist and we are wanting to write it for the first time, starting with this premise statement.

Because we know that the setting is "a small beach town that relies on tourism to stay alive," and that this is important for the story, we would want to plan scenes that reinforce this and keep it in mind. So there would be scenes of tourists arriving, tourists on the beach, discussions with the mayor about keeping the beaches open and about the economic impact of tourism on the town. As in the movie, we might plan to have a scene of a town hall meeting where various business people are freaking out. Even if a given scene isn't about tourists arriving, we can include arriving tourists in the background of a scene or in the details of a scene–perhaps an increase in traffic on the streets causes the MC to have problems getting to city hall. Or there's a road rage incident between tourists. Or the MC overhears a conversation about rude customers in a local shop, customers who are tourists.

In the movie, the "small town cop" aspect is reinforced in multiple ways. I do think there's more to Brody than that, however. This is his first summer as sheriff of the town. He had a near drowning incident when young, so he's leery or afraid of water. Yes, he has no experience with sharks, including hunting them. Altogether, he's, hah, "a fish out of water" or "out of his depth." (Couldn't resist.) This info isn't dumped all at once in a short conversation and then forgotten; it's reinforced throughout, in various ways.


I guess...what I find difficult about the premise is that I've never been able to write one before the book is finished. I do outline but it's so minimal and many things change as I draft, so I can't decide before writing the book "aha! This is my premise!" because usually I have an idea of it, but use the theme and plot to guide me to the end. Just a different way of working, I suppose. Coming up with a one-liner that sounds exciting about my stories is hard. I can't really do it. Like, I can come up with the one-liner but it's not exciting sounding. It's one of the parts of outlining that's the weakest for me but I also don't find great use in it....not like it's going to go on the blurb or anywhere I would actually need to post one. Really, I rather put my focus on learning more about plot or theme or characters or other storytelling elements vs spending time working on a frustrating one-liner. Ain't nobody got time for that. <-- that's what pops into my head and I say, "next!" :D
I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with discovering a premise, if you are a discovery writer. Or beginning with a working premise and then, as the story develops, revising it once the key elements come into better focus. As the premise becomes clearer, it can help in guiding the revision process, as some elements are removed (tangents in the plot, unnecessary characters) and scenes are rewritten to better serve the emerging premise.

I have a slight cringe when thinking about premise statements in terms of trying to sell a manuscript or book. Personally, I try to think of log lines for that, or blurbs, although a great premise statement would work also. I cringe because this puts a greater burden on the process of creating the perfect statement, something that will be shown to others and carry the weight of selling work product. So I prefer to think in terms of having a tool or guide for the writing process. You don't have to worry about it being perfect, you can toy with it, and you never need to show it to someone else! :D

I do have the experience, thanks to Heliotrope, of coming to realize that an idea was half-baked when trying to write a perfect premise statement for it. This was a good realization, all-in-all, but that story has officially moved to the back burner.


Article Team
I can attest to the fact that it is a challenging concept to grasp and it took me a while to really understand. FifthView is actually my 'premise buddy' lol. He worked with me on probably twenty premise statements before I settled on the one I liked best. That was twenty different possible directions for my story, in different settings, with different types of characters. It actually started out as a historical fantasy set in 1740 and involved a New Orleans plantation owner at first! Ha!

But I'm glad I didn't settle on my first idea and I took the time to really think it out first. I actually don't think it wasted any time at all, as my brainstorming phase probably took about as much time as it takes you to write your first draft. So we just have different ways of honing on what what is important.


I cringe because this puts a greater burden on the process of creating the perfect statement, something that will be shown to others and carry the weight of selling work product.
This is it for me right here. As an Indie, I already have to write and fine tune a blurb, which is in actuality copywriting and it's far from easy. I can't tell you how many articles, books, and other authors I've gotten information from in order to write better and better blurbs but it's still like eating a whale. With a teaspoon. I like to place my focus on the important things for my brand/business: story, cover, blurb, keywords, editing, etc. There's no room for the perfect premise statement in there because ultimately it's not going to sell my books. I'm sure there are other writers who find it helpful when drafting so it's all an individual thing like anything else in this game.