What Makes a Good Premise?

What makes a good premise? A good premise is one that sparks your curiosity and makes you want to know more. A friend of mine said that a good headline usually makes for a good premise. If you can summarize your idea into a catchy headline, you probably have a good premise for your novel. You might even have a great one.

The important thing is, don’t go with the tired old stories that keep getting told over and over with different characters. Yes, there are only so many basic plots, but the way you string events together can make that overdone plot have pizzazz. You need to find a way to make the plot original. 

Original defined: new; fresh, inventive, novel: an original way of advertising; arising or proceeding independently of anything else; capable of or given to thinking or acting in an independent, creative, or individual manner: an original thinker.

I think the definition covers it well enough. Interesting that ‘novel’ is in the definition. A novel should be “novel”. Wouldn’t you agree? When coming up with your premise, why not think outside of the box? Why not think as though there is no box? What’s limiting your imagination? Only you.

As a reader, I want to be swept into something original, creative and fresh. If I pick up a book and it’s the same old thing, my attention wanders. I don’t enjoy it. I even feel frustrated. That is not the experience I want while reading, and it’s certainly not the response I want from the readers of my books. So, I try to find a premise that will shock them and then I do my best to live up to the premise. Sound easy? No way! But, it’s worth it.

We are told all the time how important it is to be creative and original, right? But, does anyone tell us how? You’ve read posts asking where authors get their ideas from. They usually say they don’t know, they just come to them. I said the same thing when Lorna Suzuki asked me that question. The ideas just hit me.

One thing that may help with coming up with a good premise is to force yourself to go deeper. When a story idea comes to you, don’t just accept it as is and say, “Wow, that’s great!”. Instead, ask yourself if you can make it better. Will you shock people with the premise? If not, dig deeper. And then deeper.

This is what I did for my novel, Lost in Italy. My premise is, Woman Nearly Castrates Boyfriend (Headline). He chases her all the way to Italy to get his revenge (tagline). This is the premise of my story.

Here’s one by Jim Brown, Man Buried Alive for Initiation (Headline). All 4 people who buried him die in car accident (tagline). This is from his book Black Valley.

I’m sure you can think of many more premises that grab your attention. Think of some of your favourite novels and put the premise into a headline. Then see if you can do the same with your idea. If it doesn’t work, then your premise may need some tweaking.

After practicing this for a while, you may find that good story ideas jump out at you from nowhere. I came up with a good story idea that my husband turned into a great short story called, Facial Recognition. A woman is sitting in a coffee shop. A man sits down in front of her and says, “I’m your husband. You just haven’t met me yet today.” It’s a story about a woman with Prosopagnosia, or face blindness. She can’t recognize people’s faces. It causes all kinds of interesting problems for her in this story.

I’d be interested in more examples of a great premise. Do you have a good one you’d like to share with the readers? Or, do you have a good example of a book already in print? We’d love to hear your comments.