Writing a Novel: Focus on Premise

Author:
Publish date:

Today's tip comes from chapter one of The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass. Learn about premise in this excerpt.

premise meaning in novel writing

A ton of craft goes into any novel, much more so, I suspect, with a work that can grip the imaginations of millions of readers. At a certain point in the process, even the process of organic writers, choices are made: Story paths are selected, scenes are tossed out, new layers are added. Those choices can make a story larger, deeper, more memorable, or not. You may experience that process as outlining or revision, but whatever you call it, it is planning your story.

Planning a breakout-level novel sounds like magic. It’s not. Notions for stories come to everyone, all over the place, all the time. The trick is not in having a flash of inspiration but in knowing how to develop that scrap into a solid story premise, and, as important, in recognizing when to discard a weak premise that will not support the mighty structure of a breakout novel.

Breakout premises can be built. It is a matter of having the right tools and knowing how to use them. A breakout premise need not be narrative; that is, a mini outline. It can be something smaller, but if so, it must have the energy of a uranium isotope.

It could be the cold bright light of a November afternoon, the feel of a black-edged telegram in a mother’s hand, the putrid smell of a week-old corpse in the trunk of a BMW, a woman’s sworn oath before God that she will never go hungry again. In short, a premise is any single image, moment, feeling, or belief that has enough power and personal meaning for the author to set her story on fire, and propel it like a rocket for hundreds of pages.

Buy The Breakout Novelist now!

Waist vs. Waste (Grammar Rules)

Waist vs. Waste (Grammar Rules)

Learn the differences of waist vs. waste on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Bridget Foley: On Writing Psychologically Potent Metaphors

Bridget Foley: On Writing Psychologically Potent Metaphors

Novelist Bridget Foley explains the seed that grew into her latest book Just Get Home and how she stayed hopeful in the face of rejection.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 12

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a six words poem.

What Is a Pantser in Writing?

What Is a Pantser in Writing?

The world of storytelling can be broken into many categories and sub-categories, but one division is between pantser and plotter. Learn what a pantser means in writing and how they differ from plotters here.

Too Seen: The Intimacy of Copy Editing

Too Seen: The Intimacy of Copy Editing

Novelist A.E. Osworth discusses their experience working with a copyeditor for their novel We Are Watching Eliza Bright and how the experience made them feel Witnessed.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: From Our Readers Announcement, Upcoming Webinars, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce a call for From Our Readers submissions, a webinar on crafting expert query letters, and more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 11

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a prime number poem.

Stephanie Dray: On Writing Women's Legacies

Stephanie Dray: On Writing Women's Legacies

Bestselling and award-winning author Stephanie Dray shares how she selects the historical figures that she features in her novels and how she came to see the whole of her character's legacies.

From Script

Taking Note of the Structure of WandaVision and Breaking in Outside of Hollywood (From Script)

In this week’s round-up from ScriptMag.com, learn about the storytelling techniques used in the nine-part Disney+ series "WandaVision," outlining tips for writing a horror script, and breaking in outside of Hollywood as a writer and filmmaker.