Take Full Advantage of Your Story’s Premise

How many times have you been thrilled by a book’s amazing plot idea—only to be disappointed because the author never took advantage of the full potential of his story’s premise?

Coming up with plot ideas? Easy.

Setting the characters in motion? Also easy.

What’s also regrettably easy, however, is watching helplessly (and sometimes obliviously) as the story then meanders away from that original great premise idea.

What Does It Meant to “Take Full Advantage” of Your Story’s Premise?

Consider Enchantment, Orson Scott Card’s modern take on the Sleeping Beauty legend. This book is a marvelous example of how to strengthen a story by taking full advantage of its premise.

Card’s story begins by dumping a young man from modern American into a ninth-century Russia that is rife with interesting story possibilities and all kinds of conflict. How easy would it have been for Card to have written his tale entirely within this framework?

But he didn’t.

Thankfully, he understood his story’s premise—of magical time travel—supported so much more.

Instead of using only the obvious surface idea presented by his story’s concept, he masterfully upped the ante in a delightful plot twist by sending the hero and his Russian Sleeping Beauty back to the modern world halfway through the book.

How to Evaluate Your Story’s Premise to Find Its True Potential

Card recognized his story’s premise could handle much more than just the obvious first step of sending the hero to Russia and letting him fight his way through an antagonistic historical society. Instead, he was able to offer a story that literally gave readers the best of both worlds.

How did he do this?

I suspect he looked at his premise—and then looked again.

Take a long, hard look at your premise. Are you milking it for everything it’s worth? Sit down with a notebook and paper and start asking yourself questions on the page.

  • What are the obvious outcomes of your story’s premise as it now stands?
  • What would you, as a reader, expect from a story of this type?
  • What wouldn’t you expect?
  • “What if….” this happened? “What if…” that happened?

Throw all your ideas onto the page, even those that at first seem less than great. Keep digging down through the layers of obvious possibilities to find those that are unique in their plot and theme offerings.

Don’t settle for the obvious or easy answers. If you have a brilliant premise, don’t let a drop of that potential go to waste.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you think you’re taking full advantage of your story’s premise? Why or why not? 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. Excellent thoughts. 🙂

  2. Once again, very timely! In revising my NaNoWriMo novel, I’m trying to figure out exactly how to milk the premise for all it’s worth. My first draft definitely dropped the ball half-way through, but I think I’ve got some good ideas for the second.
    Thanks for the post!

  3. I agree with Jenn, I’m trying to figure out how to milk my premises for all their worth! I think I’m getting closer in my current project, but last year’s NaNo project is still percolating.

    That O.S.C. book sounds interesting–I’ll have to pick up a copy.

    Just a side note, you should start a list of all the books you reference in your blog–so many sound good to read, but I can’t always remember to order them from Amazon or the library!

  4. @Lydia: Thanks for stopping by!

    @Jenn: Glad it came in handy! Happy milking.

    @Liberty: Enchantment‘s a great read, but very different from most of Card’s stuff. You can access all the titles of the books I’ve analyzed in past videos by looking through the blog archives or by visiting my YouTube page.

  5. Good advice as always. Now to make it work in my own WIP. :p

  6. That’s what we’re all trying to do!

  7. Hello there! Have a blog award:


    It’s well-deserved!

  8. I’m doing a revise for this right now, making sure I have squeezed the most out of my idea.

    Getting 100% out of a premise is something Stephenie Meyer does very well in the first Twilight novel (her other novels may do it too but I can’t comment because I haven’t yet read them).

  9. I will be thinking about this as I polish my book getting it reading to take the plung into publishing.

  10. @Bethany: Wow! Thanks so much.

    @dirtywhitecandy: Thank heavens for revisions, huh?

    @Sarah: Happy plunging!

  11. I love OSC’s novels, particularly Ender’s Game. He has a real skill in pushing the story. This post is a great reminder of that. It’s important to think about the ‘what if’s

  12. I’m a big fan of Card’s stuff, as you can probably tell. His sequel to Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead is one of my all-time favorites.

  13. Another interesting, informative post.

    I am on a rewrite, and I can see major improvements, just by adjusting small descriptions.

  14. It’s wild and wonderful how changing even just the simplest of phrasings can make all the difference sometimes.

  15. K.M. you are a gem. Thanks so much for the obvious effort, thought, and creativity you put into your blog.

    I’n intrigued with your title, THE MAN CALLED OUTLAW.

    My protagonist is a Texas Ranger, cursed with having become blood-brothers with an Apache only half human. In short stories and two novels, I’ve taken him from the Texas plains of 1815 to the devastated post-Katrina New Orleans. I’ve tried to mine the possibilies of his long existence with imagination.

    Your posts inspire me to do even more. One day I hope you will read FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE and smile, “I remember when Roland first wrote me about this.”

    May your days ahead be productive and healing, Roland

  16. Best of luck publishing it. I’ll be watching the NYT bestseller list for it!

  17. interessanter artikel – und so wahr. 🙂 es gibt kaum etwas enttäuschenderes als verschenkte Chancen (ob nun Film, Buch oder Serie). Ich habe nun schon einige Tage mit Ihrer Homepage verbracht und möchte DANKE sagen.

    interesting article – and it’s so true . 🙂 There is hardly anything more disappointing than gave away chances (whether film , book or series ) . Now I have already spent a few days with your website and would like to say THANK YOU .

  18. Hannah Killian says

    I’m not sure how much I’ve harvested from my premise. . . .

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