How to identify The Most Important Part of Your Premise

How to Identify Your Story’s Premise–and Its Most Important Part

How to identify The Most Important Part of Your PremiseA high-concept premise can make or break your book—but not in the way you might think. It’s not enough just to come up with a cool idea for your book. You also have to make it work on every single page. Otherwise, no matter how cool it is, it quickly becomes the wrong premise. The key to solving this problem before it even gets started is learning how to identify your story’s premise—and more specifically the most important aspect of that premise—right out of the gates.

Take a look at your premise. Do you know what it is? Is it present right from the first page?

Good. That’s half the battle.

But what about the rest of the book? Is your premise driving your plot on every page? Does it matter on every page? Or did it introduce itself in a flash of look-at-me coolness, only to realize a few chapters in, it really had nothing to do, and now it stands around twiddling while the characters pursue their adventures elsewhere?

If so, the story is not only missing out on the better half of its possibilities, it also risks betraying readers’ trust. If they picked up the book because the premise sounded cool—only to discover the premise was never suitably developed—they’re likely to be disappointed.

What Happens When You Choose the Wrong Premise?

Your story’s premise is its central idea. This is the concept that created the unique situation upon which your conflict is founded. Consider the following:

  • A genius child is tricked into massacring an alien army, thinking he’s playing only a game. (Ender’s Game)
Asa Butterfield Ender Wiggin Ender's Game Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game (2013), Lionsgate.

  • A naval officer and a surgeon-cum-spy pursue friendship and adventure during the Napoleonic wars. (Master and Commander)
the three must-have story elements action humor and relationships

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), Miramax Films.

  • Two teenage cancer patients fall in love and seek the meaning of life by pursuing their favorite author. (The Fault in Our Stars)
Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars (2014), 20th Century Fox.

For the sake of example, let’s say we just read a book with the following premise:

  • An outcast girl in post-apocalyptic Siberia discovers local wolves manifesting strange abilities—sometimes grotesque, sometimes miraculous.

Now, I just made that up off the top of my head, but I actually think it sounds pretty cool. If I read the blurb on Amazon, I’d take a second look. But if in reading that book, I discovered the mysterious mutant wolves only made random appearances throughout the plot and didn’t actually matter to the outcome of the climax, I’d be pretty disappointed.

The problem might not be that the book is a bad read. The problem is that the author chose the wrong premise.

Best case scenario is that the “accidental” premise that surfaced in the main conflict isn’t a bad read in its own right even though it has a scattered focus since it started out trying to be something it’s not.

Worst case scenario is that the “accidental” premise is watered-down and boring because it took so much attention away from what could have and should have been the best part of the book.

Not exactly what you’re hoping for in your story? Me neither.

How to Identify Your Story’s Premise—the Right One

Ask yourself the following two questions to make sure your story has a cohesive premise—and that it’s the right premise.

1. What Idea Inspired This Story?

Usually, although certainly not always, the idea that first sparked your imagination’s curiosity is going to be your primary premise. For example, all my stories have started with the same simple concepts that carried them through to completion:

  • A disgraced knight falls in love with a fellow captive during the Third Crusade. (Behold the Dawn)
  • A man learns he has the ability to cross into a parallel fantasy world known to most people only through dreams. (Dreamlander)
  • A woman who lives in the sky falls onto a barnstorming pilot’s biplane. (Storming)
  • A poor boy in Georgian England is endowed with superpowers. (Wayfarer)


Consider your own first spark of inspiration. Is that original idea still present in your existing story? Is it still prominent in your story? Is it still powering your story?

If so, cool beans.

If not, you might want to consider what is the controlling idea.

2. What Idea Is Powering the Conflict?

Doesn’t matter what cool idea you initially came up with. Your story’s true premise will always be at the heart of the main conflict—the plot. What does your character want? What’s getting in his way? How is he overcoming the conflict to eventually reach his story goal? What’s at stake if he does or doesn’t reach it?

Usually, you won’t be able to sum up these ideas in the same words as you would your initial idea (above), but even if they’re not exactly the same, the one must grow out of the other.

To return to our original example of the outcast girl and the mutant wolves, if her main conflict ended up being about learning how to be a nun in a convent, with only a few glimpses of the wolves out her window, then the original premise and the actual plot do not align—and the story doesn’t work.

What’s powering your main conflict? Is it your original premise idea?

If so, cool beans!

If not, how has your story evolved away from the original idea? Can you reincorporate it into the main conflict? Or do you need to scrap the original premise altogether so you can strengthen the emergent one?

A solid narrative begins and ends with a cohesive focus on your story’s premise. To find that focus, you first have to learn how to identify your story’s premise. Use these two questions to refine your understanding of your story and come up with a high-concept premise that wows readers all the way through to the end.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How did you figure out how to identify your story’s premise? What is it? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Leaving Jane on one side for a moment (not an easy thing to do) and looking at Regina Catesby in “Star Knight” I used this premise:

    Regina, paramedic on a space station in Earth orbit, has to reach the planet Gundilly, without telling anyone why, even if it means ending her career, stealing a shuttle, and causing a several million credits worth of damage.


    Regina’s brother is dying on Gundilly unless Regina, the only compatible donor, can reach him in time. However as a paramedic she has access to drugs, and has been framed by a dealer who is stealing from the space station’s stock. Craig Wolfe, the captain of the spaceship she has found her way onto, is falling in love with her, and she with him.

    After that it gets really complicated.

  2. 100% agree. Having a 1-2 sentance synopsis is not only crucial for providing a framework to allow you to craft a cogent story (as you explain here), but very important when pitching to publishers. It’s also how you answet the most dificult question your friends will ask about your writing; the dreaded ‘what is your story about?’ While this seems innocous, it often leads to a long-winded, rambling and watered down description of your story. Having a developed, 1-2- sentance synopsis lets you answer this question in a concise and faithful way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yep, you can’t pitch without a premise sentence–so why not go ahead and hammer it out right from the start? It’s one of the first steps I always take with a new story idea.


    I was a nineteen year old virgin when I met my first love – she was my fourteen year old cousin.

    This does hold up through the story. The reader learns the sources of the MC’s anxieties, but even after he finally finds the true love he’s been looking for – it’s wrong and everything’s aligned against them. That point of who she is carries on to the final conflict and risks him losing everything.

  4. My premise for Operation Mermaid: The Project Kraken Incident was simple. A strange anomaly changed thousands of women around the world into mermaids. My problem was I couldn’t figure out where to go with that. That’s when I added a second part to my premise. The new mermaids had to help battle someone who was rebuilding a Cpld War-era weapon. That gave the book a plot point that could carry everything.

  5. Nice post. 🙂 I do agree that the premise should be strong and clear. But seriously, do all great novels start with the real premise of the story? Look at all fantasy novels, LOTR, Narnia, Oz. They start all of very differently from what is driving the conflict. The goal of the protagonists changes as well. In Fellowship of the Ring, the premise changes twice before the meeting at Rivendell. Also the protagonist changes from Bilbo to Frodo in the beginning. In The Neverending Story, the premise and goal changes completely from the first part of the book to the second part. So I am not so sure that the premise must be kept intact from page one to the last page. People changes, things around them change, life change. Why then must the premise be kept intact?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      All of the stories you’ve mentioned are particularly distinctive for having Second Act “adventure worlds” that are in stark contrast to their First Act Normal Worlds. This doesn’t, however, mean the premise switches suddenly a quarter of the way in (which *would* be a problem). The essence of the premise is set up in those Normal Worlds right from the start. Think of Dorothy and her discontent with home, her longing to go “over the rainbow.” It’s a lead-in to all that follows.

      • Ok, I understand your point. Thank you for answering, appreciated! 🙂 Can you think about any book that crosses the line where the author cheat the audience and get the readers angry? Like turning the story into a dream? I like King’s The Stand very much, but I am not really fond about how the story and premises change from a natural threat of extinction to an occult threat of destruction.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          We see the dream trick played out on a smaller level (e.g., the reader/viewer is tricked into believing a single scene is real, when it was a dream) frequently. I know it’s been done on a larger scale as well, but I’m not thinking of a good example right now.

          • Some TV shows have done it. Dallas had the scene where Bobby Ewing was in the shower, and the entire previous season was a dream. Newhart had tge scene where Dr Bob Hartley woke up and the entire series was a dream. In the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy woke up at the end of the movie and the whole Oz sequence was a dream.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Usually, when this works (which it rarely does), it’s done as a gag in comedy. The problem is that it’s not a joke on the characters, but rather a joke on the audience.

          • Sally M. Chetwynd says

            I read a novel recently in which a man’s wife dies in a terrible kiting accident while they are vacationing in Mexico in an effort to mend their fading relationship. The whole rest of the book is of his fantasy of her returning to him, usually at night, and he imagines that she and her intimacy are real. All of his friends and colleagues tell him he’s got to get counseling and return to his work in order to process this loss, all the usual. At the very end, it turns out that he has fabricated the whole thing because his wife leaves him and goes home to her parents until he can get his act together. She’s not dead at all, the tragedy never happened, but he told all of his friends and associates that she had died. Then she comes back and everything is hunky-dory and the book ends. I’m not sure how the author was going to have the man explaining all that to his friends and colleagues, which is probably why he ended the story before he had to go there. I believed myself meanly misled and cheated by this author.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

            Yes, this is a great example of how a poorly considered plot twist can make mortal enemies out of your readers. :p It sounded like a good story up until the end!

  6. For my big, ongoing project, I am hoping eventually to figure out what the premise is once the pieces are woven together. 🙂 It’s not quite there yet.

    But, I’m doing an “exercise” story as my NaNo project, which started with a clear premise (a modern Pride and Prejudice story, for practice in writing scenes and characterization) and morphed into something more. Sort of backwards from my usual process, and thus very helpful practice!

  7. You always have such good, though provoking advice. I hope you don’t mind -I copy-pasted the character interview questions from your previous post and have been working my way through them. 🙂

    I hope I’m delivering on my premise, though double-checking is a great idea. How much is premise controlled by cover copy? I was thinking about your Siberian Post Apocalyptic magic wolves and wondering -what if the author meant them to be a metaphor involving the doubts her novice nun struggled with, but whoever wrote the back copy put the wolves front and center? Is there a way to keep that sort of thing from happening?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Feel free to copy/paste the character interview! That’s what it’s there for. 🙂

      Short answer to your question is that, no, there’s no sure way to keep the marketing team at a traditional publishing house from mis-marketing the book. However, if you have a good relationship with your editor, chances are you’ll have some say in what happens.

  8. Megan Brummer says

    You helped me nail down my premise actually! I had the seed of the concept in a dream and had trouble growing it from an impression into a full story. Here’s where I’m at with it:

    An orphan stowaway runs from a criminal past to start an anonymous life on the new world—Webland. But when she discovers that she is actually from Webland, and responsible for its dark history, she must hunt down an ancient dragon who will not relent until he destroys her and what is left of her long-lost family.

  9. I truly believe you are a ‘writer whisperer’. I just thought of this idea for a new story I’m writing and see this timely post on my phone. My premise for my sequel to ‘Gobbled Up’ is a nod to the O. Henry ‘Gift of the Magi’ short story. Two long time college friends suddenly realize on Thanksgiving eve when he helps her prepare dinner for her boy friend’s parents that they are in love with each other (the premise in the first story). He works in corporate America as a finance broker but his passion is cooking. He decides to resign and go on to culinary school two weeks before Christmas. She’s a buyer for a prestigious clothing chain who loves her career. She’s never found a stable relationship until now and is ready to take the next step. He will be leaving for her for least two years to attend a famous school in Paris. It’s Christmas Eve now and the gift exchange is inevitable. It can not under any circumstances be a set of carving knives for a pair of earrings. I want some cool beans too Kate. I’m going to work hard, think harder and get them! Thank you Kate.

  10. Andrewiswriting says

    Cool beans.

    The premise of The Cup of Jamshid was, an ordinary schoolboy growing up in Sydney finds out he’s one of the fae, with powers and abilities, and must adapt to his new world, and take a side in the looming war between the Seelie and Unseelie.

    Those things are central throughout the book. Yay!

  11. Kiliane’s Rage which is my NaNoWriMo novel has a wizard killing off gods. One refuses to succumb. I kept to this premise. I reached 36k and had the envisioned ending written. The last 10k has been filling in world details and supporting cast. I don’t know if that is your vision of premise but it is visible in every scene.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The premise doesn’t have to be the *point* of every scene. As long as it’s visible, you’re good.

  12. Here’s the premise from my first novel (A YA novel titled Holy Fudgesicles):

    “A teen returns from his near-death experience with healing powers and an unspecified mission from Heaven.”

    This does hold up for most of the novel as the main character struggles to understand why he was given a second chance and his real purpose in life.

    What you said in this post about discovering your story’s premise and sticking to it on every page is SO true. This novel was easy to pitch, and quite frankly, easy to write because I knew where it was supposed to be going.

    As opposed to my second and unpublished novel, where I can’t seem to come up with an adequate elevator pitch, nor find a real sense of direction. Food for thought… thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Honestly, you raise a really good point here: if the novel is hard to pitch, that’s usually (not always, but usually) a sign the premise may need some tightening.

  13. The premise of my WIP A Time For Penance is that a woman is transported back in time to undo a murder she committed 20 years ago. Trying to distil my story into one sentence gave me the premise. The idea came to me as I’ve often wondered if we were given a second chance at our lives, would we make the same mistakes? The whole sliding door concept – what could/would have been if I’d taken a different direction in life – has always fascinated me.

  14. Roberto Fiocco says

    Thanks for this post.

    The story I’m writing is about a man who finds some hidden letters of his mother, mysteriously disappeared when he was only a child. He starts finding some hints of the truth, but has to ‘fight’ with the man who, he doesn’t know, accidentally killed her in the past.

    I started with this premise and I’m working on the first draft keeping it in mind. I think having a premise is helping me to write a longer story, because knowing my story’s direction I can add secondary characters without changing the direction itself.

  15. Tony Findora says

    This has actually helped me to better define my premise. Thanks for the help! It sounds a lot better now! Still might tweet it just a smidge though.

    “After losing everything in a village raid, an oppressed farmer finds a key that will lead him to a race once thought dead and a war nobody knew was going on.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is great! My only suggestions would be to look for ways to specify the antagonistic force opposing him and the goal/conflict that powers the plot.

  16. Sally M. Chetwynd says

    Premise of my novel-in-progress, “The Sturgeon’s Dance”

    Rory and Josie have been psychically linked since birth, although they do not meet until Rory is hired on as a contractor in Josie’s office. Their struggles, individually and together, are in recognizing and then sorting out this link, while also juggling their own personal baggage, which complicates things.

    This story has been very tricky to write, as the POVs twine together. They can’t blend into one POV, but they have to become parallel. The premise was very fuzzy until I did some extensive brainstorming and stream-of-consciousness noodling on scrap paper, and finally came up with the conclusion. That was a huge help in knowing where Rory and Josie were going, how their situation was resolved.

  17. Plot notes

    In my co-author ya book, my mc is a mermaid named Leilani besides her are other characters. There are gods, merfolk, elves, fairies, shape shifters and dwarfs that live on a fictional planet called Avanaria. Maia, the creator and the supreme goddess created the mer-folk, elves, fairies, shape shifters and dwarfs that live on Avanaria. Leilani, Zane, Valkor, Zola, Kaia, Kiana, Leilani’s family from her parents, aunts, uncles and cousins , Cara, and Ruben the evil sea deity who is also a shape shifter lives on Avanaria.
    Leilani has a vision that she sees young teenage children ill with the yellow death which she has to go to hope village in book 2 two to help the whole village that has the yellow death then she needs to find a cure.
    Since Leilani is a mermaid and a princess, she will have to do sacrifices or trails for her and as well as Zane to become immortal and gods to fight Ruben, the evil sea deity who gets an army. Leilani is good and not evil so she does not perish things.
    Leilani has visions that were passed from her ancestor Ariella the first mermaid who had the power so only the females in her family have this power.
    Leilani’s eyes change with her mood-different shades of green, blue and turn gray when she is angry or enraged only the iris of her eyes and not the white part.

    K.M. Is there are way to change this- The first generation of children from Pearle Reginia (Rina) and Atl was Marina and Regina Marine. The second generation of children was twin girls Coralie and Pearl Regina from Marina and Jordan Dylan. The third generation of children was twin girls Jewel Pearl and Merina from Pearl Regina and Ponto Jaden. The fourth generation of children was Lilia (Lily), Pearlyn, and Lorelei from Jewel Pearl and Kai. The fifth generation of children was Leilani, Kaia, and Kiana from Pearlyn and Morgan Pearl.

    Leilani also has light comes out of her hands the same color as her mer-tail-turquoise and amethyst.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The great thing about being an author is that you’re in charge. You can change anything you want with a little brainstorming to figure out how to make it work.

      • K.M. I agree. I don’t get the character interview on some of the questions.
        Vehicle: None because there is magic
        Movies: None no technology

        Don’t get

        Typical expressions:

        When happy:

        When angry:

        When sad:

        Religion :

        The mera clan and the good character do not destroy anything because they do not want to become evil.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          What are your characters’ facial expressions and body language when they’re experience these varied moods?

          • K.M. I understand now.

            Example- when Leilani is sad her head will be down, when she is happy she will smile and her eyes will sparkle.

            Her eyes are change with her moods or emotions because Leilani’s eyes change with her mood. Her eyes right now are sea green, the color of the sea or deep green.

            When she is sad her eyes become blue and angry gray.

            When she gets her storm powers will be the same except for lighting coming out of her hair and maybe lighting on the side of her face and she can also fly too.

    • What is the name of your book?

  18. Madelaine Bauman says

    The original premise of my epic fantasy novel was: “Two married gladiators must find objects of power in order to defeat a dragon king and save humanity.”

    I was told once that this was strong premise. Still writing this novel and, while I’ve kept to the heart of the story, I’ve had a lot of trouble keeping up the conflict. It might be a problem of want vs need for characters (as none are seen here) or a lack of direction for characters in this premise as anything can happen. This premise could happen anywhere.

    It’s a cool premise idea but, as I’m trying to outline, I’m seeing things start to unravel. The premise doesn’t seem as strong as it did.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think you’ve already identified a potential area for strengthening your premise: “This premise could happen anywhere.” Particularly, if your setting is unusual, you always want to look for a reason *why* this story has to happen in this place at this particular time. You’ll either discover a better setting choice, or end up strengthening your whole story by refining your answers.

  19. K.M.,

    In your outlining book you use four highlighters one blue, green, orange, pink or whatever color and for us writers.

    What did you mean use highlighters for highlighting scenes for keeping and getting rid of?

  20. K.M.,

    Thank you. I will check that out. One of my main characters Leilani. Her eyes change with her mood- sea green or deep deep to blue to gray. How would you write this a curtain way for the reader to understand it.

  21. Ms. Albina says


    Thank you I will put that. I am also writing about the Mera clan which Leilani is certainty a mermaid princess of. I am doing four short stories and making it a novella.

    This is the history of the clan

    Rina picked names for her children from the seven-letter word “Mermaid”. Then Rina chose the name Mera for the clan. The mer-folk in the Mera clan had only three hair colors: raven, brown, or auburn-that was long for the mermaids and short for the mermen. Their eye colors ranging from turquoise, blue to green, or indigo or changing with their mood. They had different colored mer-tails ranging from blend of two colors, turquoise, fuchsia or indigo. Their skin stones varied from light brown to bronze. At age of ten the merfolk got a clan tattoo. The royals only had runes on their lower back and they also had powers healing, telepathy and visions! The Mera clan had about three hundred.

    Is this good or it is better to shorten it also? The mer-folk or mer-people have mer-tails or fishtails.

    You have never wrote a story with a mermaid in it yes?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I would probably leave that info out unless it’s crucial to moving the plot and/or sow it in small bits throughout the story as it *becomes* pertinent.

  22. Ms. Albina says


    Thank you,

    What I am trying to say I am writing the history of the Mera clan a race of mer-folk or mer-people who have mer-tails or fishtails? This Mera clan book goes with Leilani and Zane series. How do I write in deep third person?

    Do you have any examples? So I don’t write thought or noticed and saw in my writing.

  23. Mike Cipolla says

    Let’s see if I have the general idea of premise for my story.

    A teen-age girl adoptee searches for what she wants to do in life by visiting a family relative in a small town. She doesn’t realize that relative is a birth-mother wanting to search for her given up child, while avoiding confrontation with the clueless birth-father.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Looks good. You’ve presented the protag, her goal, her situation, and the antagonistic force.

  24. K.M,

    The mera clan book will have a collection of four short stories -Pearl Regina, Jewel Pearl, Pearlyn and Leilani in the book. This will be a novella.

    Have you ever published a novella and do you put it into chapters?

  25. Perhaps this is what my current WIP is missing. I just returned to the first draft (after setting it aside for a while) which I wrote without outlining (and then got Outlining Your Novel and had the easiest NaNo ever), and so it’s a bit all over the place … and now I’m trying to rewrite/revise it to fit some sort of a pattern. I think if I were to stick closer to the premise, it would really help.

    What would my premise be? Maybe “A mentally delayed girl travels to a boarding school in Scotland to receive special teaching away from her loving but misunderstanding family only to meet the school’s secret, a young lady who, though sometimes normal, occasionally bursts into almost demonic fits.”

    (I think Jane Eyre snuck in there …)

    I honestly love this idea and the novel and the characters and the setting. It’s the sequel to a book I published almost a year ago, and I wanted to publish it this summer, but as things are going … I don’t know if I’m going to be ready. There’s so much I’d like to change, and I know I can’t rush myself.

  26. Ms. Albina says


    Leilani does not destroy Ruben but Ruben’s powers get taken away in book 3. Ruben gets banished somewhere else. Do you use suddenly or scanned or gently or passionately in your writing? Do you have any letters in your books also-dreamlander one? Do any of your characters have powers?

    I used to not like writing when I was in high school and now I do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m sure I’ve used all those words at one point or another. There is a later in Dreamlander, and the main characters have powers of sorts.

  27. Ms. Albina says


    When Leilani has her visions her spirit self sees the vision when she is asleep. What do you think of this?

  28. Ms. Albina says


    Do you also write seventeen, three hundred, two hundred or a thousand years ago when you write the first sentence?

    For one of my stories examples_
    Chapter 1
    Once a upon a time seventeen years ago, Mother Pearlyn gave her elder daughter, mermaid princess named Leilani the gift of a hand-maiden. Her name was Cara. She was a pretty dark-haired and mocha skinned mermaid. Ad time went on Cara was trained to became a priestess since she had great abilities only needed to be toned.

    Do you think I need to change anything?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The most important aspect of your opening line needs to be hooking the reader by piquing their curiosity, usually with a seeming discrepancy.

  29. K.M.,

    Why do some people or most write novellas in first person? Mine is not.

    example-Chapter 1
    A long time ago before Leilani was born, a mer-queen named Pearl Regina and her husband the mer-king Ponto Jaden had twin daughters Jewel and Marissa (Rissa). Their grandparents Marina and Jordan lived with their family in a beautiful palace in the turquoise waters. Jewel was given a priestess named Merlyn to watch keep Jewel out of trouble and mischief.

    Merlyn, raven-haired four years older than Jewel and Marissa was also a mermaid-priestess.

    Jewel, the mermaid princess and her sister had Marissa raven-haired and Marissa had freckles and Jewel did not.

    Today was Jewel and Marissa’s seventeenth birthday. They each received a beautiful pearl necklace as gifts.
    Later that day Jewel and Marissa wished to go swimming.

    Did I need to add more like the scene to the story?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writing in first-person is entirely a stylistic choice. It isn’t necessary. You can create almost as much closeness with the reader in a deep 3rd-person POV as in 1st-person.

  30. Ms. Albina says


    Thank you. Do you like to write in active or passive voice when you write? I am some passive voice in my writing. I think active is better.

  31. Ms. Albina says


    Thank you. Are there any active verbs? Since Leilani does not like to be told what to do show it or if she gets mad which as if stem came out of her ears.

    Yay or Nay?

  32. K.M,

    In the novella that I am writing the main character Jewel, Leilani’s grandmother gets married to Kai, a mer-prince from a neighboring clan who also lives on planet Avanaria.

    Have you read any fantasy books?

  33. One thing I notice is that the wolves example doesn’t contain a character motivation/goal and all the movie premise summaries do.

    I wonder if that’s one factor that helps authors stay on track with their premise?

    For example what if it were:
    “An outcast girl in post-apocalyptic Syberia struggles to prove her worth by investigating when local wolves begin manifesting strange abilities – sometimes grotesque, sometimes miraculous.”


    “When local wolves in post-apocalyptic Syberia begin manifesting strange abilities—sometimes grotesque, sometimes miraculous – an outcast girl struggles to make a home among them.”

    or even

    “When local wolves in post-apocalyptic Syberia begin manifesting strange abilities—sometimes grotesque, sometimes miraculous – an outcast girl wants nothing to do with them but finds her fate is inextricably bound to theirs”?

    Would that be a good idea? Or is that beyond the proper scope of a premise?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely! Good eye for spotting that. The character’s goal *is* the plot. As long as that goal ties in with the premise, everything will hang together beautifully.

      • “The character’s goal *is* the plot.” or, in basic form, the premise. Am I on the right track in that line of thinking? I always have SO much trouble trying to figure out my premise from the spark of an idea. I think my stories suffer for it.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, you’re exactly right. The character’s external goal drives the external plot.

          • Thank you! The comment you made previously in the thread above helped the premise make more sense for me!! I think I forget to keep sight of the external goal and then my premise gets lost.

  34. I love your posts. Every single one speaks to me. Your site is the best resource I have found online.

    I am writing a historical fiction novel. As far as I can find no one has done this particular story from this character’s point of view. She is always a minor character because she dies young. Her husband and children are the ones who go down in history.

    I had a lot of trouble with the premise until reading your posts. You really helped me by going back to why her story interested me. The beginning of the premise is the little blurb everyone always writes about her and the rest is her internal conflict and the conflict with the antagonist.

    Thank you for your help.

    Wondering also if you are available for book blurbs? I am self publishing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says
      • Sally M. Chetwynd says

        Are you referring to the back-cover story-descriptive blurb or those annoying promotional blurbs extolling the story’s quality?

        If it’s the back-cover copy, I agree that it’s a tough one to write. But it’s a job I want to do, because somebody else who may offer this service isn’t going to have the feel for the story the way the author does. I’ve met authors who had someone else write the back-cover blurb, and they were most disappointed. Some of them found that the blurb was completely in the wrong genre from the book.

        If it’s those promotional blurbs, I have no problem with two or three, posted on the back cover or somewhere in the leading pages (not the first one!) of the book. My peeve is when I have to wade through three or four or five pages with dozens of promotional blurbs before I unearth the title page. That’s when I dismiss the book and find something else. An excess of blurbs tells me, “Methinks ye protest too loudly.” I don’t need a convention of who-know-whos telling me this is the greatest story ever written. I’d rather read it and form my own opinion. I may agree with them, after reading the book, but their opinions are no better than my own. For my own book, I don’t need that extra baggage cluttering up my book, thank you very much!

        • Thank you K.M. and Sally. I will take both of your advice. I’m actually just self publishing on Kindle anyway. A blurb is not really needed. I was just curious.

          Keep up the good work, K.M.

          • Sally M. Chetwynd says

            I wouldn’t agree with you that you don’t need a book-summary blurb – that’s probably the first thing viewers look for when checking out a book, whether in print or as an e-book. Otherwise, the reader is spending money blindly, without a clue as to what the story is about.

            Again, they aren’t always easy to write, but all the more reason to put something together and hone it until it is a good enticement to a reader. I look at back-cover copy from other books I’ve enjoyed that are in my genre as examples and guides to craft my own.

            (It needs to provide enough information to set the stage, so to speak, but it needs to be a teaser, too, not giving everything away, so that the reader is drawn in and wants more.)

            You can send that out, too, to your beta readers to get feedback. My readers let me know that the blurb for my current WIP was too long, so I trimmed, polished, and tightened it down to 200 words, which is an acceptable word-count.

  35. Rebekah D. says

    It took me a while to finally identify my story’s premise, but I was able to pin down the main points of it into a sentence. Here it is.
    “Liesel Richter, a Jewish girl in the thick of WWII, finds herself all alone when her parents and brother are captured by the Gestapo, until an unlikely ally, Vivian Albrecht, finds her and hides her from the Nazis, who know more than they realize, and are determined to find them.”

  36. Harshini says

    Is it perhaps possible to have more than one premise for a book? like a primary and a secondary? or does that mean, i am deviating from the path and loosing focus?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Short answer is no, you don’t want more than one premise for your book. Even if a story offers a major subplot or follows multiple plotlines, they all need to tie together under the umbrella of the larger thematic premise.

  37. Kristine Jones says

    Premises have always been my stumbling blocks. This story that I am working on, I’ve been trying to get down for years. This is what I have for a premise. Am I close?

    A CIA Agent is forced to become a mole for the Russian Mafia for the safety of her daughter. She can trust no one as she tries to locate her daughter, the man responsible and not be branded as a traitor.


  1. […] much the themes changed in my head. I hadn’t realized it, but after reading the blog post found here it made it clear that the central idea of the story had migrated […]

  2. […] How To Identify Your Story’s Premise (K.M. Weiland) – “It’s not enough just to come up with a cool idea for your book. You also have to make it work on every single page. Otherwise, no matter how cool it is, it quickly becomes the wrong premise. The key to solving this problem before it even gets started is learning how to identify your story’s premise—and more specifically the most important aspect of that premise—right out of the gates.” […]

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