NaNo is just around the corner. And if your family or relatives are anything like mine, they’re going to ask what you’ve been up to recently when you visit some for Thanksgiving.
And if you love writing just as much as I do (hah, who am I kidding. Not possible!), you’ll most likely respond with “I’ve been doing a lot of writing.”
And then: “Oh, what are you writing?”
And you, wondering how to explain it: “A—a novel.”
And that dreaded question: “Oh, what’s it about?”
That dreaded question.
How do you explain that your half-mermaids have to save the oceanic world from evil half-sea monsters while falling in love with them in their human lives before all dying a dramatic death… without rambling on and on and sounding like a lunatic?
Or even more frustrating… what if you barely have anything figured out yet?
That, my friends, is where the premise sentence comes in.
Once we have some basic ideas and brainstorming down, what’s the use if we don’t take full advantage of them? Creating a good premise sentence helps you discover your story’s basic facts and solidify conflict, character, and plot.
All you’ve gotta do is answer a few basic questions. We’ll go along with our half-mermaid saving the oceanic world example with a few of the most basic questions. These are based on K.M. Weiland’s questions found in Outlining Your Novel Workbook, and more questions for the premise sentence can be found there.
Basic Premise Sentence Questions (with example)
Who’s the protagonist? A group of half-mermaids.
What’s his situation at the beginning of the story? Each of them are separately, frustratingly discovering their ability to turn into mermaids when submerged in water.
What’s the protagonist’s main goal? To figure out what to do with their new mermaid abilities.
Who or what is the antagonist, the big bad guy? A group of evil half-sea monsters who want to take over the world.
What early disaster will happen to the protagonist and force him out of his “normal world” and into the main conflict? After becoming aware of the dangers threatened in the oceanic world by the evil half-sea monsters, one of the half-sea monsters sees the group of girls from school turn into half-mermaids and knows they were the ones eavesdropping on the bad guys in the oceanic world. Now the half-mermaids have to fight to keep their abilities a secret from the human world.
What conflict will arise from the hero’s reaction to the disaster? The beginning of wars waged between the half-mermaids and the half-sea monsters.
What’s the logical flow of cause and effect that’ll allow this conflict to continue throughout the story? A back-and-forth struggle between the half-mermaids and half sea-monsters in the human world concealing their secret abilities, as well as the battles to protect the oceanic world down below.
What’s the focus of your story? Fun rivalry dramaticness and the protagonists and antagonists falling in love. See, I’d totally write something like this, despite the fact I think it’s cheesy and don’t like fantasy.
What will be its genre? YA fantasy.
Who will be its intended audience? Most likely youth.
Tada! Now, using the information we’ve gathered in the above sentences, we can put together a premise sentence—or two, if our story is just too juicy to cram it all into one. Warfare‘s premise sentence required a hefty two.
(I wanted to use Warfare‘s premise sentence stuff as an example, but I’m writing this post in Texas and don’t have that particular notebook with me. It’s saddening, I know.)
Our Half-Mermaid Story Example:
A group (situation) of half-mermaids (protagonist) want to get rid of (objective) their newfound abilities to form tails when submerged in water. But when their powers are discovered (disaster) by a gang of evil half-sea monsters who happen to be their own classmates (opponent), they must fight (conflict) to save the newly-discovered oceanic world—while trying to avoid falling in love.
Another version of the premise sentence is a log line. It’s used in the film industry and helps the author of any story distill the essence of what our stories are really about.
K.M. Weiland gives us two templates to use in Outlining Your Novel Workbook.
Log Line Template #1
A (descriptor) (protagonist) must (do something) that will (set up) a (climactic encounter) with a (descriptor) (antagonist).
Half-Mermaid Story Example:
A group (descriptor) of half-mermaids (protagonist) must defend the oceanic world (do something) that will inevitably lead to a sea battle (descriptor) with a gang of evil half sea-monsters (antagonist).
Log Line Template #2
After (something happens) to (set things up), a (descriptor) (protagonist) must (do something) that will (set up) a (climactic encounter) with a (descriptor) (antagonist).
Half-Mermaid Story Example:
After their abilities to form tails when submerged in water are found out (something happens) (to set things up), a confused group (descriptor) of half-mermaids (protagonist) must use their powers to defend their oceanic world (do something), leading them closer and closer (set up) to a feared sea battle with a gang (descriptor) of evil half-sea monsters (antagonist).
Not only do you have facts down about your story and have discovered the main flow of plot, conflict, and character, now you have an organized and interesting little blurb to quickly give any well-meaning family and friends when they ask what your book is about—even if you don’t have every single detail figured out yet!
Premise sentences and log lines have really helped me figure out the basic essence of what my story is about and give me the big-picture overview. And because I like doing things like this, I’m actually working on memorizing it so I can impress my relatives with it when they ask! 😉
… Instead of my generic answer: “Uh… it’s hard to explain. But basically about a ninja and a samurai who fall in love… um, it’s also a series, and all these warriors find each other, find love and God and salvation… uh… it’s not plotted yet—I’m still working on it?”
Yeah, that was their reaction, too.
But thankfully, no more, you genius! Premise sentence, log line, whatever it is, time to wow your friends & fam with a quick blurb about your book when they ask. And help identify the essence of your story while you’re at it—even if you’re not an avid plotter, you’ll be able to see where you’re going and have a clear direction.
Do you have a premise sentence / log line for your story? I’d love to read it!
Seriously wishing I had typed Warfare‘s premise sentences up so I could share them. But these mermaid story ones were fun to create. I do have a lot of info, updates, and snippets about my WIP Warfare in my previous post if you’d like to check them out!
Do you like writing-related posts? I’m thinking of doing more as we approach NaNoWriMo. What do you think?
Outlining Your Novel Workbook, K.M. Weiland
The story example is completely fake. If it sounds like anyone else’s story, it’s unintentional.