Understanding Premise and the One-Sentence Story Concept

Over the last few weeks we’ve been taking a look at key moments in your novel’s structure. This week, before we get into the meat of my 10-20-30 Scene Builder concept, I want to make sure you have a clear understanding of premise and the one-sentence story structure.

We really can’t move forward until you have this nailed, so I’ll do my best to help you get there.

Most writers are clear about the inciting incident or initial disturbance that has to come near the start of the book. Yet, I see way too many novels in which there really isn’t a strong impacting incident. Or it’s in the wrong place.

I recently did a fifty-page critique on a novel (which wasn’t the author’s first novel either) that had fifty pages of setup. Backstory. Telling all about how the characters met, fell in love, got married, etc. What was the stated premise? Basically, it told of a man who has something precious taken from him and must face danger and horror to get that thing back. Huh? What did the first fifty pages have to do with any of that? Nothing.

That inciting incident wasn’t there. I imagine it shows up at some point later, but that’s way too late. The inciting incident has to come at the start of the story. It launches the story. Catapults it. You don’t want your story sitting in that little catapult bucket for weeks just waiting for someone to hit the lever and send it flying.

A ship’s voyage begins when it’s launched. Not when it’s sitting dry-docked for weeks, waiting.

Every great story is about some character in his ordinary world that gets veered off in a new or specific direction due to some incident. Michael Hauge nicely calls this an opportunity. Life is moving along and suddenly an opportunity presents itself, for good or ill—or both.

Whether it’s a parent’s kid getting kidnapped, a violent storm blowing into town, a ship of mutant dinosaurs or zombies that land on shore, or a young woman meeting a hot man, novels need that inciting incident to launch the premise.

Getting a Handle on the Premise

And what’s the premise? That’s the situation that calls for someone to do something about it.

A premise presupposes a situation. Someone with a reason, drive, need, compulsion—needs to deal with that situation.

You can fashion a premise by asking “What if?” What if a comet was about to hit Earth and scientists had to find a way to stop it? That idea makes way for a premise (situation setup), which makes way for a one-sentence story concept.

How do you go from premise to that important story concept? By adding in those key corner pillars of novel construction: the protagonist and his goal and the conflict with high stakes.

It’s so important writers understand this important structure of novels. Sure, this is going to vary a bit, but in every genre, novel structure is key. The stronger the foundation of a story, the better chance it will hold up.

And one of the keys to a strong foundation is that strong premise.

You Gotta Have Goal

If you don’t have a protagonist set up to go after some goal for the novel—a goal that veers the protagonist in a new direction by that inciting incident—you are going to have a hard time putting a solid novel together.

Yes, that sounds simplistic. It is. But I will stand by my belief that every great novel is about someone with passion going after a goal. And the premise that’s set up (the situation that needs remedying) is all about, yes, that character trying to reach his goal.

I know some of you are getting sick of hearing this from me. I’ve written countless blog posts and writing craft books centering on this, but I do so for a reason. Seriously, if even half the manuscripts I edited and critiqued had a clear, strong premise featuring a protagonist going passionately after a goal, I would not write so much about this. In fact, I’d jump up and down and sing silly little songs if even half of those manuscripts had this very basic and necessary foundation.

So, if you don’t have this understanding down, spend some time reading those blog posts and studying those books until you get it. You need to be able to write a one-sentence story concept (yes, one sentence) that tells the premise of your novel, featuring that protagonist and his goal, and what conflict or primary opposition he’s facing.

Example from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (via Randy Ingermanson): “A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents.”

Some call this a one-sentence pitch, a logline (usually for scripts). Scriptlogist.com makes this suggestion:

Here are three questions to ask yourself as you write your logline:

  1. Who is the main character and what does he or she want?
  2. Who (villain) or what is standing in the way of the main character?
  3. What makes this story unique?

I like Nathan Bransford’s simplified formula for a one-sentence pitch: “When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest].”

I’m going over all this for one specific reason: we’re about to take a look at my 10-20-30 Scene Builder concept that I’ve been putting together for novelists, to help create a cohesive road map that can be used to build a solid novel.

The most challenging aspect of novel writing, to me is what to do with all those cool scene ideas and developments. When brainstorming my novels, I often have pages of notes and index cards. I have a ton of great scene ideas that have conflict and show progress and hindrance as the hero or heroine of my story strives to reach the goal.

But then comes the part when I have to lay it all out in the best and strongest fashion.

While I now do a lot of this intuitively after writing a lot of novels, I still need to break down the action into sections in a manageable way.

And this brings me to the basic framework we’re going to start looking at next week—the five key turning points in your novel (based on Michael Hauge’s story structure). Along with your inciting incident (turning point #1), we’ll take a look at the four other key developments in your story, and with those you’ll get a look at those first ten key scenes you need to plan out to begin the framework of your story.

So, first and foremost: get your premise clear and strong. Practice writing out your one-sentence story concept. If you can’t for the life of you figure out what your protagonist is after or what the central conflict is, you more than likely don’t have a strong concept, or maybe even a premise. And that’s a big problem.

If you are stuck and need help, hire me. Let’s work on this. You may have a very cool idea, but ideas are lumps of clay. They are just sitting on the table like blobs of nothing unless we turn them into powerful concepts.

Wanna share your one-sentence story concept in the comments?

Here’s a clip of former literary agent Jonny Geller talking about the one-sentence story concept.

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  1. Oops, that wasn’t one sentence. May I try that again?
    A girl growing up in the seventies wants a new bike, so she earns enough money in order to buy one, however, she finds it’s not as easy as she thinks.

  2. The only way Jenna can save the world from the Patron’s thirst for domination is to trust the woman she’s been hired to kill.

    Thanks and admiration to Pepper Basham who condensed my tries at this.

    1. I like this. But why is Jenna in a position to “save the world” (that can come across a bit too corny or hyperbole)? Can you hint at Jenna’s profession/expertise that puts her in that position?

      1. First, what I think I’ve been learning about these one sentence pitches, is they are designed to make someone (editor, agent, publisher) ask more questions. Thank you for confirming it works.

        How about–
        Jenna, the Patron’s choice of assassin, seeks to stop his thirst for world domination, but must trust the woman she’s been hired to kill.

        can stop the Patron’s thirst for world domination is to trust the woman she’s been hired to kill.

  3. A girl growing up in the seventies wants a new bike, so she gets a job as a papergirl in order to earn enough money, however, she finds it’s not as easy as she thinks.

    1. You’ve got part of this right. But the key to this sentence should be in the opposition and stakes. Why is this a compelling situation? What actually happens that interferes with her goal, and what does she need the money for? Think of the elements of your story, why you wrote it, what you feel makes it a gripping or unique story that readers will love. Then try to convey that in your one sentence.

  4. When the heroine’s mother is charged with murdering the heroine’s missing child, the heroine must struggle with her fears regarding her child’s fate, and her family’s part in that fate.

    1. Galen, be sure to use actual names in your one sentence. And just saying “Jane” is dealing with fears isn’t showing what’s really at stake and what her goal is. Is her goal to exonerate herself before she ends up in jail for the rest of her life? Does she try to find the true murderer in order to get justice served? Focus on the visible goal for the book and what the opposition is. Her dealing with her fears is part of her spiritual/emotional journey, but that’s not the premise of your story.

      1. This is so helpful! Many thanks! Hope it’s OK that I’m giving it another shot:
        “When Olivia’s son, Geo, is kidnapped, she is devastated and seeks refuge in the love and support of her family, but when Olivia’s mother is arrested for Geo’s murder, Olivia must dig for the truth and struggle with her heart to decide who can be trusted – and who is hiding a deadly secret.”

  5. Lol, this is so hard! Ok, this is moderately awful, but here goes:

    Merika Deveron just wants to be left alone to run her smuggling business and get by, but when one of her friends is captured by the forces of the dying Ir’drahkon Empire, she must track him across half a galaxy, confronting a dark conspiracy, two powers on the brink of interstellar war, and her own terrible past.

    Gah, that’s a long sentence, and I’m still not sure I hit the important points…

    Thanks for this, though – I’ve been putting off working on this for a long time…

    1. Nicole, it’s actually pretty good! You could take out “and get by.” And trim down to “enemy forces” instead of “the forces of the dying Ir’drahkon [whew, mouthful!] Empire.” The wording is a little wonky. I’d write: “. . . she must track him across the galaxy, where she must face conspiracies, two powers teetering on the brink of war, and her own terrible past.” Something like that. But you have the character’s goal clearly shown and conflict and danger (opposition) is implied. Good job!

  6. Let me give this one a shot – This is for a movie pitch for a book I’ve already written

    Benjamin Hunter has been injected with a deadly weapons-grade virus and the search to safe him, and hundreds of thousands of other innocent people, leads Alex Boudreau, black ops operative and notorious double agent, to the highest, windiest, driest and loneliest continent on Earth—Antarctica.

    1. Sounds interesting! Think about starting with your protagonist, though. It will confuse to start with a mention of someone else. However, if you leave off Benjamin’s name and just say “a man . . .” that could work. It’s a bit wordy too. You could say “countless innocent people” instead of “hundreds of thousands of innocent people.” Same with the description of Antartica. Simpler is better, sounds more sophisticated. Wordiness is going to hint that maybe your novel is also overly wordy. (Be sure to use “save” and not “safe” him too.) My other thought is: So he has to go to Antartica–what about it? Why is that a big deal? If you can show what the big danger and stakes are there, that would be great.

      Anyone else have thoughts on this?

      1. This has been an extremely helpful exercise and I now plan on doing this for the book I’m currently working on. I’ll paste it as a header for the manuscript and it will be there as a permanent reminder.
        Anyway, here’s a re-write. I prefer to leave in the “wordiness” about Antarctica simply because I believe people are unaware that the adjectives describe Antarctica. btw – Alex is a woman which is a catch in the opening chapter so I need to keep she/her out of the pitch.

        Alex Boudreau, black ops operative and notorious double agent, searches for the one chance to save Benjamin Hunter and countless others who have been infected with a deadly weapons-grade virus and inside the dense jungles of Western Africa, Boudreau discovers the only cure lies deep in an unknown chasm in the highest, windiest, driest and loneliest continent on Earth—Antarctica

        1. I get that. But almost everyone pictures Antartica as a very lonely and dangerous place. Is it important to your plot to inform readers it’s windy or dry or high? I think probably not. So economy of words is best to keep the focus on what really matters. Your novel, of course, will evoke the locale through description as your characters experience the place.

          1. okay, I got ya on that. Here’s the change and I think I do like it better.

            Alex Boudreau, black ops operative and notorious double agent, searches for the one chance to save Benjamin Hunter and countless others who have been infected with a deadly weapons-grade virus and inside the dense jungles of Western Africa, Boudreau discovers the only cure lies deep in an unknown chasm of Earth’s loneliest continent—Antarctica.

  7. Here’s my sentence….

    Looking for adventure, Jack Coles leaves his fiancé to fight in the Vietnam War, but his adventure turns to heart break and horror as he realises he’s made the worst decision of his life and he can’t control the consequences.

    1. Hi Carole, thanks for jumping in. Well, first off, you need the female form: fiancee. Just a little thing (unless he’s got a male fiance?) Anyway, it will be assumed that Vietnam is no adventure (and why would he think it would be??). So this is lacking a clear goal and the specifics to explain what this plot is about. It’s not just about a guy who goes naively to Vietnam and finds himself in the middle of war. Thoughts?

      1. Thanks for your feedback. This is proving a hard exercise! There were a huge number of young men who went to Vietnam who were seeking adventure, they wanted to get away from the mundane of home life, or were getting into trouble etc… (or this was the case in New Zealand anyway).

        How about this….

        “Looking for adventure, Jack Coles leaves his fiancée to fight in the Vietnam War and falls in love with a pretty Vietnamese girl, but when his company walks into an ambush and Jack shoots and kills a notorious VC sniper, Jack’s life will change for ever as the adventure turns to nightmare when he returns home and into the arms of his fiancée.”

        Is it too long?

        1. Carole, this is better, but for a one-sentence concept, it is a bit long. It’s a good exercise because it helps you hone down to the very basic concept of your novel. And amazingly enough, a lot of first novels don’t have a concept to speak of. So, I’m guessing when Jack kills this sniper, something happens to him. Is this the inciting incident that triggers the premise and starts Jack off in a new direction for his life? How does his life “change forever” and how is the MDQ (the dramatic question) answered in the climax of your novel? This might help you center on your concept. I’m thinking more like “When Jack Coles kills a sniper while in the swamps of Vietnam, he [set goal, determines, wants ___], but when he returns home from war to his fiancee, _______” This sounds more like the point of the novel. Thoughts?

          1. Cripes I’m actually really stuck on this, it must be a sign my story is in deep trouble. 🙁
            The sniper Jack shoots is actually the mother of his 5 month old baby. He’s injured and shipped home knowing his baby is left behind with no mother. He has to back.
            So, may be…
            “When Jack Coles kills a sniper while in the jungles of Vietnam, he is sent home determined to return, but will going back bring the peace that he’s looking for, or will it destroy everything?” But now this is sounds a bit boring. 🙂

          2. Carole, try not to think in terms of back-cover copy. The sentence should be a statement and not a question. Is the story about his effort to try to get back to Vietnam? Then “getting back” would be his goal for the book. If he does go back but is trying to get the baby, then that is his goal. Focus on the one clear goal for your protagonist, for therein lies your concept. Make sense?

  8. Does this work?

    Jimmy Sullivan, a young lawyer appointed executor of a deceased fixer’s estate, must find the fixer’s hidden blackmail book and turn the tables on a Grand Rapids crime syndicate and a Detroit gangster that are willing to kill to get it.

    1. This is good, almost there. I don’t think it’s important to say he’s young. But if he’s inexperienced and in over his head, that hints at some of the stakes. Then you want to mention that danger. Yes, it’s implied he’s going to incur the wrath of the gangster and the syndicate, but you could reword to show how much danger he’s getting into (and maybe make it more like Jimmy is determined to take them down, regardless of the danger, because that’s what’s important to him, his passion–for justice?).

  9. It’s not 100% there. Needs a lot of work, but this is the gist of it —
    Divorced and failing miserably at her career, Clancy McDonough must decide if this is the time to finally pursue the life she’s always imagined for herself – but where will she find the courage to transform her fantasies into a livelihood?

    1. Thanks for sharing, Maureen. But this is an example similar to the ones mentioned in the video clip. You need to specify a clear goal–something readers can picture (see my posts on visible goals). Readers don’t know what life she’s imagined at all, so this will be too bague. And don’t think back-cover copy with a question. Think of making a clear statement about your protagonist, who she is, what her goal for the book is, and what opposition is in her way. Make sense?

      1. Thank you. It does make sense. I need to work on clarification. I believe that once I define this for myself, my theme, premise and concept will be better defined for the reader. This is a statement I will revisit many times. It’s a wonderful exercise to get to the heart of the matter.

        1. I have been reviewing this exercise for the past few days and I just want to pass on my gratitude. The thought of composing this one sentence has scared me more than a certain presidential candidate. The exercise has uncovered a very large crack in my book’s foundation, so much so that I feel the urgent need to stop any further writing until I’ve addressed this issue. I need a stronger inciting incident and I need a stronger reaction to my inciting incident. I’ve been reading Stephen King lately and I believe this is his super power. He sets up a premise with an inciting incident so tantalizing that all I can think about is, “Oh boy, this is going to be such a fun ride.”

  10. Great post and thank you for the inspiration. Quite a challenge!

    A pariah to public health in the 1920’s, newly tuberculous Stefania Molek is committed to a public sanatorium in which she and a developing community of her fellow ostracized both pursue and rebel against a cure, exposing themselves to the horror and beauty of a fragile life.

  11. Not bad this post, C.S.Lakin! And thank you for the feedback that you are giving to us!

    Here it is my try, but I don’t write the story in english so, you can laugh with my grammar mistakes 🙂

    “Andreonna wanted to run away from her poor village and be glorified by her magical gifts, till the day that she and her son were declared demons to exterminate by the greatest sorceress Fillomenna.”

    Phew! Big sentence, huh?

    1. Hi Sara, thanks for sharing. Think about what your character’s main goal is for the book. What goal does she set once she is declared a demon? Is it to kill this sorceress? Is this something she wants to do or believes in? The key is in understanding her motivation and core need, and then show what’s at stake. Make sense?

  12. I hope this is still open. I just discovered your site and am learning a lot.

    “Mary, with mixed feelings about finally pursuing a romantic relationship with her dead husband’s college friend, travels to Paris to reconnect with him, and runs headlong into secrets from their past that challenge her faith and her prejudices.”

    1. Hi Don, thanks for sharing. This is good but a little vague. You want to be specific about the opposition and the goal. Is her goal to decide if she wants to commit with this man? Or get him to love her? And what specifically is standing in the way? What are the prejudices she has to overcome? Play around with this a bit 🙂

  13. Hi, we spoke over email earlier but I thought I’d post this one-sentence concept here since reading this article and comments have helped immensely in understanding the email discussion:

    “Adventurer-in-training Ato hears rumours of newly discovered ancient ruins and investigates for himself, but when a powerful corporation moves to exploit the discovery for their own gain, he must band together with complete strangers to challenge the megacorp, conquer his past, and prevent great evils from being unleashed upon the world.”

    This took me a while to figure out. Probably because I found it rather difficult to focus on one character for this exercise. (The original plan was to put together a central cast of about eight or nine “main” characters – the ‘complete strangers’ I mention above – each with their own time in the spotlight. A difficult challenge, I know.)

    1. Good points here. Working on this concept sentence helps writers hone in on the heart and purpose of their story. Novels (practically any story in any form) are about one character pursuing a goal (take my free mini course on the 4 essential pillars to learn more: cslakin.teachable.com). If a writer can’t figure out who their protagonist is, that’s a foundational disaster. Yes, you can have lots of other supporting characters, but everything centers on the one character and his goal. Having that clear is halfway home.

  14. This is my first try of a logline for this new novel.

    Thrust into the unwanted leadership of the President’s secret unit, Hawks must lead his agency while worrying about the female agent that he has fallen in love with.

    1. This is pretty good. What is the situation that develops that creates the key goal for him that’s resolved at the climax? That is your goal that should be in your one-sentence concept statement.

  15. Jen has to stop her colleague at a dead end retail job from ending the world, and work out why the gods have chosen her to prevent the apocalypse.

  16. I have been working on this for awhile — so maybe you can help me know if I am anywhere in the ballpark of getting it right.

    Boston Detective, Niki Marie Adams, must juggle the ghost of her past with her current life while striving to stay a step ahead of the FBI as they join forces in pursuit of the serial killer who is out to destroy everything that Niki holds dear.

    1. Hi Rachael, well, to me, this is clear but vague. She’s dealing with past issues (okay, most protagonists are). Why is she having to work in opposition to the FBI (do you mean the FBI are joining forces? With whom?)? What is this killer trying to destroy of hers? The idea is to get specific enough to show what’s unique about your concept and sets it apart from many other novels that are roughly the same plot. Hope that helps (also you don’t want to put commas bracketing her name since she isn’t the only Boston detective).

      1. Thank you — I so appreciate your feedback. Is this any better?

        Boston Detective Niki Marie Adams wrestles with her long forgotten cult upbringing where she was conditioned to kill and her current life to serve and protect while striving to stay a step ahead of the FBI in their search for a serial killer who has been slaughtering the one-night stands of Niki’s alter ego.

  17. I hope this is still open. I’ve been trying to write a premise for my story but I don’t know if it is any good.

    Zookeeper Allen Mathews struggles to keep his zoo, but when a family sues him, he must persuade determined judge Olivia Reads on his side.

    1. That’s a good start and explains the goal and the opposition. What’s at stake? Will he lose the zoo? Go to jail? I think adding the stakes will help with that.

  18. Thirty years since the Supernatural community was exposed and now the new generation is trying to find a place for itself in an increasingly turbulent and divided world.

    I don’t even know if this counts as a premise, because it is so broad. Since the story is a character vs society sort of tale.

    1. More specific version:

      A girl called Charlie is a supernatural student integrated into an English University where the murder of her friend motivates her to form a Non-Violent movement for her people.

      1. I think this is good as a premise. Not sure what “her people” mean. Other supernatural students? Is her friend killed because she is one of them? Is there a primary opposition to Charlie and her efforts? Think of how to include/clarify the opposition in your one sentence.

  19. Just stumbled across this blog post and thought I’d try out this technique (surprisingly, this is harder then it first sounds). My novel, a quest-oriented high fantasy, is shared with at least 3 POVs, but one character’s story is definitely stronger.
    This sentence definitely feels too long, but I tried to fit the required information in:

    Former gladiatrix, Danica Rowan, just wants to settle down with her husband, but when a dying man—pursued by the king’s men—appears on their doorstep, claiming to have information on Danica’s long-lost family, the Rowans are pulled into a search for ancient relics of power in order to fulfill a prophecy, and keep their unborn son safe from a tyrant king.

  20. Hi, I´m writing and posting short stories. And the way I do it is by writing a behavior and a goal, I wonder if I´m doing it right. For example:

    Receiving the order from the client (starbucks), Eugenio (main character) notes that Bernardo (the one who harassed him in high school) was waiting for his turn in line, he feels ashamed when he imagined his face when he saw him working there (as a barista) and seconds later he had the intention of getting rid of that encounter without reducing its value (goal).

    1. This is a moment in your scene, but it isn’t the premise for the entire novel. You want to craft a sentence that explains what the entire novel is about. A character goes after a goal, which is resolved at the climax.

      1. Thanks for your respond.

        I understand what you say. So, maybe the premise would go like this:

        Eugenio wants (goal)to buy a car by virtue of his effort and reason but (obstacles) Eugenio himself believes he is incompetent; Julio and Bernardo wants to subordinate Eugenio; and his Dad believes he is incompetent.

        The starbucks scene could be a scene in the middle almost at the end where he finally stood up for himself and proves to himself he is competent and he
        is worthy of respect ?.

  21. I have two for the same novel

    1) When her best friend moves out, Vivianne joins a crochet group to meet new people.

    2) An autistic young woman steps out of her comfort zone to meet new people when she joins a crochet group.

    1. Hi Brittany, what you are presenting is basically the situation, but it doesn’t really address the stakes or the conflict. This inciting incident (joining the crochet group) should lead to a goal that is met with challenges and opposition, so think about rewording the one setence to show why this would be a riveting story amid conflict and high stakes (for her).

  22. I personally think this is too long, but I couldn’t think of a better way to write it without some good outside corrections.

    John Walker is a contractor, unafraid to dish out violence for a price, but when a scared young woman runs into his arms for help, Walker must use every instinct and skill he has to protect his client from a cabal of criminals willing to cross every line to keep their anonymity, including murder.

    1. Hi Jack, I think you could cut this down, but the gist comes across well. It may not be important to say he’s a contractor (does that matter?), and the phrase “unafraid to dish out …” is followed with a “but,” implying he is now afaid to do that (which I don’t think you mean). Isn’t it more like John isn’t afraid to use violence when needed and will do so to protect this woman? I’m also wondering how she is a client (he’s building a house for her?). And criminals usually don’t want their identities known, so not sure why it’s important to note that they want to keep anonimity. Just a few thoughts here.

  23. Hi, I got confused where you state the premise comes before the concept, not after.’ How do you go from premise to that important story concept?’ This contradicts other writing websites.

    1. Hi Tinthia, I find some writing instructors’ take on this very confusing. They mix up and interchange idea, concept, and premise. A premise is a situation. That’s all. It presupposes something has happened that must be dealt with. I would first think of a situation, such as a man is stranded on a planet, then I would come up with a concept with a kicker to build on that premise. A premise is not a concept. A story concept has a protagonist with a goal (dealing with the situation created by the premise). With my example, the story concept might be: a man stranded on Mars uses his wits and training to find a way to not only survive until rescue but must travel hundreds of miles to a working space capsule to prep it for flight to meet the ship in space. Again, the premise is merely the situation the character is in (or takes on, depending on the story idea). The concept is the actual story idea that involves the character’s goal, the themes, the conflict and high stakes. Hope that makes sense!

  24. 12 Key Pillars has changed my thinking about structure. After reading about one jillion books on structure, this one seems to have put everything in drive. Thank you! Below is my shot at a pitch.

    Kate seeks her biological father and discovers thru an over-the-counter DNA test that she is missing every genetic biomarker for illness or disease and must now run for her life from greedy corporations, government entities, and wealthy entitled families who all believe what she was born with belongs to them.

      1. I appreciate your response. Thanks so much for all the time you devote to helping others deepen their understanding of this elusive craft. Also, I really enjoyed your interview on the Ultimate Writers Series. And, haha, I cant wait to read my novel, too!

  25. I’m still not entirely sure with this and I think this is a bit—or really—wordy (well, I’m always struggling with this, sigh) but here it goes:

    When a girl who has no memories of her past gets snatched away from the wings of her so-called fiancé by a man who claims to be her husband, she must convince her jaw-droppingly gorgeous and mysterious yet tenaciously disapproving kidnapper to file an annulment case while also dealing with her inability to manage her feelings well until she regains some of her most crucial memories, making her realize the real reasons why falling for him is dangerous—for her, for him, and for their loved ones.

    Badly need help for this (since I’m literally working on this for months now and still doesn’t have a progress). Any suggestions? I’d truly appreciate it. Thank you.

  26. A salvage archeologist returns to Alaska to find the truth about her mother’s death from her dying father, who’s always done his damnedest to keep the secret buried.

    1. This is a good setup and opening. What’s at stake? Is this her goal for the whole novel (to learn the truth)? What happens (stakes) when she starts looking into this? What consequences for her?

  27. Great info C.S.!

    What do you think about this?

    When the husband of a private investigator’s client dies under suspicious circumstances, the private investigator is convinced the authorities have the wrong person in custody and seeks to uncover the truth on his own before an innocent person is sent to jail and a killer goes free.

    1. The first part of the sentence is kind of hard to parse. When John Smith, PI, learns that a client’s husband has died …. Also could be tighter, less wordy. … and mounts his own investigation to prevent an innocent person from being charged while a killer goes free. Something like that, maybe? Think also of motivation. Why would the PI go to all this trouble?

      1. Wow, this premise writing is tough! Thank you for your help C.S.!

        My character is a former supermarket tabloid journalist who got tired of making a living by exposing scandalous superficialities and spreading rumors of decreased movie stars) and is now looking to prove himself as a “real” investigator. I am trying to basically condense that down into a few words.

        What do you think about this?

        When a former tabloid journalist turned PI learns that his client’s husband has died, he seizes the opportunity to prove his worth by mounting his own investigation to prevent an innocent person from being charged while a killer goes free.

  28. Great tips C.S.! I’d like to give it a try and welcome your feedback. Here is my premise:

    An outcast at home and at school, 15 year old Rebecca Thompson’s life goes on a downward spiral when she discovers the depth of her perfectionist mother Noelle’s disapproval of her.

    1. I think this is a good one-sentence description of the situation. Is this the premise for the story? Something she is going to spend the novel trying to fix or change? Or is this more the environment she is dealing with as she pursues something else?

      1. Hello C.S.

        Thank you so much for your feedback! To answer your question, yes, this would be the premise.

        Your other questions gave me something to think about. I am leaning more towards this would be the environment she is dealing with while she pursues a career her mom strongly disapproves of. Her mom favors her two sisters because they are pursuing good ‘careers’ and does all the right things, or so she (mom’s character) thinks. So Rebecca feels her mom does not notice her.

  29. Hi Susanne,
    I think last year you asked what my premise was, and I promptly choked on various definitions. This post is wonderful, straightening out my muddled brain.

    The simple premise: A daughter must use her skills to cure her mother’s dementia.

    Wrapping everything else in my 1 sentence story concept:

    In the near future, Alyson Bernard, a DNA scientist, must battle her fears of losing the love of her life, impossible odds, time running out, the wrath of mom going down her slippery slope of genetic engineering, and a teammate that will stop at nothing to see her fail, to save her mother and those like her from the insidious disease called dementia.

    Too long? Too much?

    1. It’s a bit long but it clearly lays out her goal and situation. You could take some of the obstacles out and instead elborate a little on why time is running out. Sounds like a strong story premise!

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