Do You Know the 6 Must-Have Elements of a “Wow” Story Premise?

Do You Know the 6 Must-Have Elements of a “Wow” Story Premise?

Story premise is the foundation of all good books. It’s the fundamental kernel of the beginning idea. But it’s more than that. If you can craft a solid story premise right from the beginning of your writing process, you will be able to capture all the concrete details necessary to bring your story to life.

Outlining Your Novel Workbook by K.M. WeilandAs most of you probably know, I’m a tremendous advocate of outlines. As such, the premise is always my starting point for creating a full-fledged outline of every story I write. But even if you’re the freewheeling sort who prefers not to create detailed outlines before writing the first draft, a solid story premise can offer you a mini-outline capable of guiding and informing everything you write.

This is why you should always go that extra mile with your premise. If you settle for vague cliches in your story premise, you’ll inevitably end up with a vague and cliched story. Before you ever sit down to write your opening line, take a moment to identify the six elements required by any premise–and take another moment to figure out how to make those elements so entirely awesome they take your breath away.

Story Premise Element #1: Protagonist

Every story starts with character–and not just any character, but the character.

  • Whom do you find the most interesting?
  • Who inspired this plot?
  • Or–if the plot idea came first–who will be most suited to taking full advantage of its possibilities?

Story Premise Element #2: Situation

Situation is the first kernel of your plot. This is the status quo in which your protagonist finds himself in the beginning of the story.

  • What is the hero’s personal condition at the beginning?
  • How will that condition be changed, for better or worse, by the hero himself or by the antagonistic force?

 Story Premise Element #3: Objective

A protagonist has no business showing on the page without an objective. If he doesn’t want something and want it badly enough to do just about anything to achieve it over the next couple hundred pages, then he doesn’t deserve to have a story told about him.

  • At the beginning of the story, what does the hero want?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is he going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?

 Story Premise Element #4: Opponent

Even an awesome character with a passionate goal isn’t enough to drive a story. For that, you need conflict, and before you can even consider conflict, you have to create an antagonistic force that can stand in the way of your protagonist’s objective.

  • Who is your story’s opponent?
  • How is this person or entity standing in the way of the hero achieving his objective?

Story Premise Element #5: Disaster

The first quarter of your story will allow you to set up your characters and their world. But something dramatic has to happen at the First Plot Point to force them into action. Usually, this moment will be a comparatively disastrous one that destroys your protagonist’s Normal World or estranges him from it.

  • What will be the disaster?
  • How will it be the result of the protagonist’s attempts to achieve his objective up to this point?
  • How will the protagonist respond?
  • How will the antagonistic force respond?

 Story Premise Element #6: Conflict

All of a sudden, you almost have yourself a story. All that remains is to see where your characters’ reactions to the disaster in the First Plot Point lead them.

  • What’s the story’s main conflict?
  • How is it a result of the hero’s reaction to the disaster?
  • How will it pit the protagonist and the antagonistic force at cross purposes?

Creating the Two-Sentence Story Premise

Now that you’ve gained a better an idea of the possibilities for your story, you’re ready to write your premise. In two sentences, you’re going to produce a premise similar to these:

Orphaned gypsy Heathcliff (protagonist) grows up to love (objective) his adopted sister Cathy (situation), but when Cathy (opponent) marries her wealthy neighbor (disaster), Heathcliff sets in motion a terrible vengeance that will pit him against everyone he knows (conflict). (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë)

Do You Know the 6 Must-Have Elements of a “Wow” Story Premise?

Restless farm boy (situation) Luke Skywalker (protagonist) wants nothing more than to leave home and become a starfighter pilot, so he can live up to his mysterious father (objective). But when his aunt and uncle are murdered (disaster) after purchasing renegade droids, Luke must free the droids’ beautiful owner and discover a way to stop (conflict) the evil Empire (opponent) and its apocalyptic Death Star. (Star Wars: A New Hope directed by George Lucas)

Do You Know the 6 Must-Have Elements of a “Wow” Story Premise?

And just like that you have a solid story premise on which to build your entire book!

If you find yourself struggling to construct the actual sentences, take a second look at your original answers. Could any of them be strengthened to be more specific or original? A good story premise is worth spending some time on. In the end, you will have emerged possibly having identified and eliminated structural weaknesses and definitely having created a valuable tool for outlining and pitching your novel.

Do You Know the 6 Must-Have Elements of a "Wow" Story Premise?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. I like how you get straight to the point on explaining this with out droning on and on. <3

  2. This is complete AWESOMESAUCE (they really should put this word in the dictionary). Loved it. Trying to piece together all of your writing process, which I find quite interesting to say the least.

    So prior to your outlining and structuring, you definitely have a strong premise. Which makes complete sense. What I have with my draft is pretty much a premise. I need to go back and strengthen it though. I definitely didn’t outline beforehand, but took a lot of notes and had a 3 act structure floating around in my head. But I never sat down and wrote the structure or scenes or the premise for that matter. Even though it has the basic elements.

    So what I think I’ll do is take the basic premise and strengthen what I already have. At that point do you think I should try to boil out an entire outline and structure it KM style? Trying to learn the basics and feel like it’s the skeleton on which hangs everything. How could I even edit without it? What would have to fall back on? I’m in employed in the physical therapy profession so I know all about bones and the skeleton. Without it we’re literally shapeless sacks of flesh. Makes perfect sense.

    Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’d say you need to structure it Benjamin style. 😉 Obviously, I recommend my outlining method and think it’s the best way, but I also believe that it’s not right for every author. So play around with it until you find just the right system to optimize your own creativity.

  3. After a new character demanded my attention, I found this post and followed it to get the following:

    After their mother’s sudden death, teenager Sigrun wants nothing more than normality to return. However, when they after a public blowup at school find the truth about their non-human heritage, they are faced with the choice of digging deeper into it–or allow a serial killer to go free.

  4. I have a question. My conflict and objective started after the disaster at the end of the second chapter — which I’m hoping would appear at less than 10k words on my story. I’m writing a fanta
    sy novel and had no idea if I should present the disaster without introducing the world to have the premise starting. Thanks for the advice! I like your blog, I just discovered it recently.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Although any number of disasters can happen early in your story, *the* disaster is the First Plot Point at the end of the First Act–25% of the way into the story. This gives you plenty of time to set up the characters, their goals, the world, the stakes, and the conflict before shoving your character out of the Normal World and into the “adventure world” of the main conflict.

      • I appreciate the reply. After replying posting, I added some pseudo objective on my character before *the* disaster happened and with it, a psuedo conflict. I’m going to speak in general here: they will discover that the pseudo objective isn’t what they really want and discover their real objective during the real conflict.

        Anyways, I hope the execution turns out good.

  5. Sometimes a protagonist doesn’t fit the “hero” mold.

    Wendy starts with a Want (to not have to grow up) but not the type of Goal that drives the story. She meets Peter and willingly goes to Never Never Land — not a disaster. Then she’s sucked into the conflict between Peter and Capt Hook. Peter, being the boy who never grows up, must have a Flat Arc; Wendy is the one who changes (by realizing it would not be a good idea to never grow up).

    Dorothy Wants to leave home, but meets the con artist and from then on her Goal is to go home and reassure Auntie Em that she is OK. She does arrive at Oz via a disastrous tornado. She is sucked into the conflict between the Wizard and the one remaining Bad Witch.

    Alice is curious about the rabbit in a waistcoat. She arrives in Wonderland by disastrously falling down a rabbit hole, and then she has a Goal of going home, but doesn’t seem to desire it as intensely as Dorothy. The nonsense is a key part of the story — without the nonsense, it just wouldn’t be the same even though all the story structure would still be there. Her Goal is basically to satisfy her curiosity by observing all the nonsense, or am I missing something?

    Scrooge Wants to be left alone to count his money, but Needs to reconnect with his humanity. When he meets his late partner’s ghost, is that a disaster? He willingly goes to the Special World (his past) with the first Ghost; is that a disaster? His Goal is to watch whatever the spirits have to show him and to “profit” by it.

    Fun Fact: Both “Ebenezer” and “Scrooge” are Hebrew names meaning “generous.”

    My main character Wants to obey his controlling mom (specifically, by finding a rich doctor to marry) and to please or help others generally, but Needs to think for himself and make his own decisions (including not to marry for a while) — something like that. His disaster occurs on page 1 when his arranged marriage falls through and he finds himself in a strange country (his Normal World is covered thru flashbacks and conversations). The obstacle to finding a rich doctor to marry is very simple: there aren’t any his age, or if there are, they don’t want him (probably because he’s a mama’s boy). He discovers a community of people who are addicted to extreme experiences — from our POV, they abuse each other. His fascination with this community, and finding out the unbelievable truth(s) about what they do, distracts him from his rich-doctor-finding mission, and he accidentally proposes to one of them. He decides to play undercover detective (so he deceives his new friends, ready to betray them). As people tell him more, he learns how unsuitable his new fiancee is, and he tries to talk her out of her hobby/lifestyle. He is arrested for drunkenness, tells the cop what he’s learned, and spends a night in the loony bin. He gets to visit the mysterious “club” and sees that the stories are true, and while there he stands up to his fiancee on an issue of right and wrong, and he also has a “fall” and participates in the “abuse.” His fiancee sees in him what she has become, and decides to take his advice and quit the hobby/lifestyle and cut ties with everyone involved–including him. His deceit is discovered and he is rejected by the community. As a denoument, he gets back in touch with his mom and this time he sets the rules/boundaries.

  6. Samiul Lameem Akbor says:

    can the objective be after the disaster? For my character, the story goal is when the disaster actually happens. He makes a deal with the granddaughter of a woman he killed.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes. The character will have related goals throughout the First Act, but they won’t always solidify into *the* main story goal until after the First Plot Point.

      • Samiul Lameem Akbor says:

        Thank you

        • Samiul Lameem Akbor says:

          Is this a good premise?

          Heartless and cynical orphan Abaddon (protagonist) used to spend his life enacting revenge on innocent villages (situation)… till he killed the Oracle (disaster). In order to preserve himself and ensure survival (objective), he makes a deal that sends him on a journey about his heritage and on the run from a delusional cult (opponent).

  7. I love that I can come back to an article years after it was written, and find new comments – complete with responses from you.

    I’m struggling with my premise right now, but I’ve just realized that, while the story I am plotting is nothing like Star Wars, the premise you’ve listed as an example really does fit my story line…. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry!

Trackbacks

  1. […] premise template A good story starts with a strong premise. A few minutes spent working out the core elements of your story—the protagonist, situation, […]

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