We don’t think [story ideas], we experience them. And then we spend all our creative energy trying to figure out how to help you experience it too.
A few weeks ago, I put four novel premises to a vote on my social media platforms. The goal was simple: I wanted my readers to determine what they wanted to read from me.
My purpose in doing so was actually twofold:
First of all, I am a firm believer in writing for your audience (check out episode one of the podcast to learn why) and the best way to do that is to ask them what they want. I may have a fabulous story idea in my head that I am 100% in love with but if my audience isn’t interested, there won’t be anyone around to purchase a copy of the novel once it releases.
Second, I want to invite both readers and fiction writers along for the journey of novel idea to publication. Most readers don’t understand all that goes into the publication of a novel and so don’t understand how they best can support fiction writers so those novelist can continue to craft great stories. And the majority of fiction writers don’t understand that crafting the actual story is only one small (albeit very vital) part of the overall publication process.
So, I posted the following four novel premises (click through the image gallery to read each one):
What did the readers choose? #3 Searching for the Charmings.
I’m going to get to know Emily’s story and her search for the perfect in-laws very intimately in the coming months, and I’m super excited to do so, today, though, I wanted to take you through the process of crafting these four novel premises.
For fiction writers, story ideas come at us in various, breath-catching, excitement-inducing ways. You might think they find a spot in our minds and won’t let go but the reality is that they find a space in our hearts and root themselves deep. We don’t think them, we experience them. And then we spend all our creative energy trying to figure out how to help you experience it too.
Crafting the Premises
Because I presented full, back-cover-copy-type of premises, you might think I have completed plotlines for each novel and you might be surprised to learn that I don’t. In fact, each novel idea I presented to my readers are at a different stage of development. But, when it comes to writing a premise, you don’t have to have a fully fleshed out plotline!
You just need to answer some “wh” questions:
- Who is the main character
- What is the main character’s main problem
- What do they think will help them
- What is in their way
- Which keywords describe the above in a concise and intriguing way?
Here’s a status breakdown of each of the novels I submitted to the vote:
Novel #1, Image of the Invisible
I was in high school when I had a dream that I wrote down into a monologue that I preformed in a drama competition. Right after college, that monologue connected with a vivid scene that hit me in the days that followed a break-up. Even now, 15+ years later, when I read these two particular scenes, I feel a wave of emotion hit me. See? Rooted down deep. I’ve written large chunks of this novel (even thought it was complete at one point) so writing the premise wasn’t difficult because I had all the components I mentioned above.
- Who is the main character: Adriana
- What is the main character’s main problem: She just wants to be considered normal but being deaf has always gotten in the way of that and now she keeps having visions of other people’s lives which is definitely not normal.
- What do they think will help them: If she could just go about her day without people noticing her
- What is in their way: God is giving her visions about people He wants her to help, which is making her get noticed.
- Which keywords describe the above in a concise and intriguing way? Deaf, visions, not normal, hide
Novel #2, Just Keep Truckin’ On
I love Susana. I don’t know her very well as I have only written a few scenes from her story that found their way to me in a furious fashion one day while I was working in my kitchen. But, I couldn’t get her out of my head. Not her story, but her. The fringes of her fury compelled me to write her down so I could understand her better. As I wrote those couple of scenes, I asked myself, “who is this woman and why is she so angry at her husband?” The answers came quickly and the premise was created.
- Who is the main character: Susana
- What is the main character’s main problem: She and her husband were supposed to start a new season of life after 30 years of church ministry but he has suddenly passed away and now she’s lost all sense of direction.
- What do they think will help them: If she could get rid of everything reminding her of her loss.
- What is in their way: Her husband purchased a semi right before he died and her kids are bugging her to deal with it.
- Which keywords describe the above in a concise and intriguing way? Angry, pastor’s wife, semi-truck, adult kids, truck driver, new life
Novel #4, The Pastor’s Husband
The most recent of my novel ideas (seriously, it found its way to me in June), I have absolutely no plot developed for this novel. I don’t even have scenes written down (or even in my head!). But the main character introduced himself to me as “the pastor’s husband” and I at first chuckled but then seriously started thinking through the implications of that statement, asking all those “wh” questions, and the premise came together.
- Who is the main character: The Pastor’s Husband, Jim.
- What is the main character’s main problem: He is newly married to a woman pastor (an occurrence that is unusual and new even in their particular denomination) and everyone has opinions on how he should navigate it, even though Jim just wants to work, fish, and love his wife well.
- What do they think will help them: To just put his head down and avoid becoming involved
- What is in their way: People interpret his avoidance as shyness and start orchestrating ways to involve him
- Which keywords describe the above in a concise and intriguing way? Pastor, husband, church, children, fishing, woman pastor
And the winner: Novel #3, Searching for the Charmings
This is another novel that’s been with me for years and years, but recently, I realized I was forcing parts of Emily’s story because I wanted certain things for her. I committed to taking a step back and asking the story to tell me what needs to happen. I’m excited the readers selected this one because it gives me an opportunity to really capture the story instead of forcing it, starting with the premise.
- Who is the main character: Emily
- What is the main character’s main problem: She comes from a dysfunctional, broken family background that has left her feeling forgotten and unwanted.
- What do they think will help them: Finding in-laws who can fill the missing family roles in her life.
- What is in their way: At the end of the day, she has to marry the guy, not the in-laws.
- Which keywords describe the above in a concise and intriguing way? Dating, Prince Charming, villain, family, advertisement
Pulling it All Together
As you can see, having those key pieces of information give the shape to the premise. The rest is really just finessing. Here’s my thought process when I take the “wh” components and craft them into a premise:
- What is the tone of my book and how do I match that in the premise with word choice, sentence structure, and use of white space?
- What is intriguing, unique, different, eye-catching about the premise?
- How can I put that uniqueness in the first sentence?
- How can I use formatting to my advantage?
- What words can I get rid of?
- Would I keep reading after the first two sentences?
- Did I incorporate the key “wh” components in the premise?
- Did I give the read enough of a reason for them to spend time with my story?
That’s it, that’s how I crafted curiosity-peaking novel premises from story ideas in various stages of development. Now, go get working on crafting the premise for your own novel!
Now that I know what novel I’m writing (thanks, readers!) and I have a good idea of the “wh” components of that story (the premise), I now have two goals:
- Get to know the main character better through a character development
- Plot key moments in the story’s timeline
Until next time,