When you write a book, it needs to be about something. When someone asks what your book is about, how do respond? Do you stumble over your words trying to describe your book? Time to pin down your premise.
Premise: The central idea, situation, or set-up which provides the foundation and pushes the narrative forward. What happens as a result of actions is another way of describing the premise. If point A is where the conflict or problem arises and point B is the outcome, then the premise is A leads to B. Perhaps another way to get a handle on the premise of your book is to determine its main point or take-away lesson.
A premise is usually one sentence. It conveys the larger lesson or a universal truth. “When Dorothy is caught up in a Kansan tornado, she visits a magical place called Oz, only to discover there’s no place like home.”
Expressing your premise — your driving idea — helps you while you write. It keeps you from wandering too far astray from the organizing concept and your narrative arc on a steady path. Consider your opening scenario, central characters, the inciting incident and how the stakes are raised. Your premise may be stated in the form of a question. “What if a group of school boys stranded on a desert island work to govern themselves?”
A premise should be brief, provocative, and include the central characters, a conflict, and a hook. The premise should pull the reader into the story and leave them begging for more. The premise should reveal a larger world and contain universal appeal. Write your premise statement in present tense and with clarity.
Here are some examples in book deals reported on Publishers Marketplace from May 9-10, 2013 listings.
“NYT bestselling author Seanan McGuire‘s INDEXING, a serialized urban fantasy novel pitched as Grimm meets Criminal Minds, about a special branch of law enforcement which hunts down potential fairy tales before their narratives can become active and leads to deadly consequences, to David Pomerico at 47 North, for initial publication as a Kindle Serial in 12 installments, followed by a print edition, by Diana Fox at Fox Literary (world English). Translation: Betty Anne Crawford at Books Crossing Borders, Film/TV: Pouya Shahbazian at New Leaf Literary.”
“Compensation expert Don Delve‘s THE PURPOSE OF PAY: Revamping Compensation to Revitalize Organizations, demonstrating the competitive advantage of using compensation and incentives to create a more productive and innovative workforce, to Laurie Harting at Palgrave, for publication in 2014, by Joelle Delbourgo, at Joelle Delbourgo Associates (World).”
“John Glatt‘s THE LOST GIRLS, the story of three young women kidnapped, imprisoned, and repeatedly raped and beaten for over a decade by Ariel Castro in Cleveland and just recently discovered alive, to Charlie Spicer at St. Martin’s by Jane Dystel at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
When they write up the big news about your book deal, your clear premise statement will be front and center. Put it down on paper and put it in front of your mind as you craft your book. The power of a premise shouldn’t be underestimated.