NaNoWriMo Quickstart Guide – Part Three: Picking a Core Premise

Step 3: Picking a Core Premise

Your next task is to pick a Core Premise for your story based on the pile of ideas you’ve just put together in the previous step. This step is extremely important and shouldn’t be skipped, because your Core Premise is the central idea of your story and the seed from which the rest of the story will grow. Without it, you’ll quickly run into problems because you won’t know the story you’re trying to tell, and with it, you have a guiding star leading the way to the end!

For finding your Core Premise, you’re going to use a very basic technique that writers of movies have been using for a long time. In the movie business, writers often approach producers and directors with ideas for films, but they use a very simple structured version of their idea to get maximum effect and make the producers interested. If they can use it to sell a movie, you can use it to sell a book to yourself- so let’s get started!

A great Core Premise needs to describe most of the following things:

  1. The main character’s role or job. (Don’t use a name, just their role for now.)
  2. One or two adjectives about the main character. (to give them personality)
  3. Anything that’s important to know about the setting or setup for the story.
  4. What the main character’s clear goal is.
  5. The antagonist, opposition or challenge they face. (Also no names, use roles instead.)
  6. One or two adjectives about the antagonist. (to make them interesting)
  7. A hint of what will happen if the protagonist loses, or the stakes involved. (to add drama)

These can be presented in any order, but usually go in the above order, and will produce one or two sentences that look like this:

A mousy college student (adjective, who) working in a used bookstore (setting) must find a mysterious book (goal) when her co-workers are possessed by evil spirits (adjective, opposition) that will escape the store at nightfall. (stakes)

An overworked executive assistant (adjective, who) at a large corporation (setting) must choose between her work and her family (goal) when a long-time rival (adjective, opposition) threatens to steal a big project (stakes) during a family crisis.

A high school student (adjective, who) must find a way to tell her long-time crush her true feelings (adjective, challenge) before she moves to a new city and they lose touch forever. (stakes)

It’s actually pretty easy and fun once you get the hang of it!

Try using the ideas you brainstormed in Step 2 to come up with a Core Premise that follows the rules above. You don’t need to use all the information you came up with, just the main ideas. Also, don’t be afraid to try different versions of the premise with different details until you get one that you like.

Once you’ve turned at least two of your story ideas into Core Premises, then you should look at each one of them and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does this story idea grab you and make you want to write it?
  2. Is this story going to make your readers feel something?
  3. Is this story going to be one you think will interest your target audience?

If one of them gets three answers of “yes!”, then that’s the story you need to write. If more than one gets a “yes”, then you’ll need to decide which one gets the stronger responses and write that one first. If none of them get a “yes” for all three questions, then you need to go back to Step 2 and brainstorm some new ideas and turn those into Premises that will work for you.

Assuming you have at least one core premise you’re now excited to write, it’s time to move on to Picking the Theme of the story!