The Premise Line: A great way to kick-start your novel

Every author, from  beginner to seasoned, must make that first decision: What is this story going to be about and where do I start?

For some authors, I dare say most, this is their first big hurdle. Once cleared, they are on their way to writing that novel. Questions abound in the beginning. A big one is should I outline? Outlining isn’t for everyone. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll save outlining vs writing by the seat of your pants for another segment. So, where should you start? I have an idea that might help.

You’ve no doubt been thinking about this novel for a while, either deliberately jotting down notes or doing research and printing gobs of articles or just letting ideas stew in your brain. Either way, you’ve probably been wondering how you are going to weave all the pieces together into a finished product. Sometimes getting started seems to be the hardest part of writing a novel. Here is a tip that I use and I think it might help.

Think about this:

Every book, as with every film, TV show, screenplay and stage play have one thing in common—the premise.

The premise is the underlying idea of your story-the foundation that supports your entire plot. If you can establish what your premise is at the beginning of your project, you will have an easier time writing your story.

Without a Premise, an author can fail to make the plot come to fruition. A premise adds focus and is the organizing concept driving the creation of your story. Every scene, every sentence should be written with the Premise in mind.

A Premise contains three elements:

(1) Identifies the protagonist;

(2) Communicates what incites the protagonist to act & why.

(3) Communicates what the protagonist must achieve; this usually involves overcoming an antagonist and/or counter-intention of some sort.

The Premise can (and should) be updated, as the novel progresses.

Examples of premise lines from famous films:


See if you can guess these movies by their premise line:


  1. A land lubber sheriff tries to kill a giant shark to protect his family and seaside resort town.
  2. A small boy who was accidentally left alone tries to prevent robbers from breaking into his home during Christmas.
  3. The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
  4. A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.
  5. A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
  6. A boy who communicates with spirits that don’t know they’re dead seeks the help of a disheartened child psychologist.


Check you answers:

Home Alone
The Godfather
The Matrix
Silence of the Lambs
The Sixth Sense

As you can see, a premise line doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s a tool to keep your writing on track and and your mind always focused on The End. I write out my premise line on a sticky note and attach it to my monitor. If and when it needs to change (and that happens several times each novel) I rewrite it and replace the old with the new.

This was my final premise Line for Last Chance:  A disavowed spy in search of his vanished partner finds himself in a small Wyoming town reluctantly stuck in a battle between the Town Marshal and a corrupt land baron.

Good luck and happy writing!


Leave a Comment