When I first started writing, I was pretty much convinced that inspiration was all I needed to fuel my stories. I was a proud pantser then and I thought outlines existed solely to restrict my creativity.
While this thinking has led me to spew out several short stories — flash fiction that never amounted to more than 1,500 words each — I soon realized that this whole concept I had of writing was not going to fly with a 50,000 word novella.
My story fell flat before it could even begin to soar because it was missing either one of two important elements that could strengthen it — the plot and the premise.
The premise is most commonly compared to the foundation of a house. The whole story rests upon it and without it, the whole thing stands on shaky ground.
The premise is the barebones structure of your story, without much creativity or fanciness to it, but it is the heart of your story. It is the most elemental concept that your story revolves around. You build the rest of your story around its premise and not the other way around.
Some popular premises are good vs. evil, foolishness or some other character flaw leads to downfall, and in most dystopian stories, an imbalance in the political and social structure leads its constituents to fight it.
Sometimes, a premise can seem so much like another in many other stories and that’s alright. A premise is so basic that it will most likely resonate in other stories in the same genre. It is what you do with the premise that will set it apart from the others on the shelf.
For example, the premise of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is about a young boy who attends a school for wizards and witches. I am pretty sure there are a lot of young adult fantasy books that have written about a person being thrust into a heretofore unknown world of magic and learns to grapple with it. What sets it apart from all the other books is the plot, the author’s voice, and how skillfully Rowling has woven the elements of a good story together.
Unlike the premise, the plot requires a lot more thinking and maneuvering on the part of the writer. Where the premise is most often compared to the foundation on which the house is built, the plot is the very house itself. Even if you have a great foundation — your premise — if your house is so poorly constructed with leaks and gaping holes all around where the rain and other elements can come in — your plot — the story is set up for failure.
The plot is the very thing that drives your story forward and keeps your readers turning the page. You may have heard of some reviews hailing a “gripping plot”, meaning the driving force of the story has its reader so totally in its thrall that to put the book down before it is done would cause abject misery to the reader.
The essential parts of a plot include the exposition, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the denouement.
- In the exposition, the main character is introduced to the reader, as well as the main conflict of the story.
- In the rising action, the main character is immersed into the conflict. This is the part where the most tension in the story is bound to happen. The main character or other characters do something to deal with the threat of the main conflict. This is also the part where other complications can arise and bring added conflict to the main character.
- The climax is the highest point in the story wherein the main character ultimately faces the main conflict. All the other little conflicts will converge to make it the darkest hour of the main character in the entire story.
- Falling action, the story slowly decrescendos as the actions of the main character from exposition to climax show the results. This further dwindles to the final part of the story, the denouement.
- The denouement or the resolution is the ending of the story. It is in this part that the conclusion to the story is made and where all the loose ends are tied up neatly or otherwise.
In building a story, neither plot nor premise is as important as the other. Both are integral to the success of your story. You can have the greatest premise in the world but if your plot is full of gaping holes and leaves much to be desired, your readers are more likely to stop reading it. On the other hand, a great plot without a solid foundation will cause the rest of the structure to come falling down.
Have you decided on a premise and a plot? Or would you rather wing it? Let us know in the comments below!