What is your Story’s Premise?

tower of books and a man interested
Image by zen via Flickr


Yesterday I sat in on a tweetchat on twitter. The link to the chat transcript is above. The subject was: The Premise.

So what is “The Premise” of your story?

Bill Johnson defines it as “the Foundation of Storytelling”. He breaks this down even further with:

“A story premise sets out a story’s core dramatic issue, the movement of that issue toward resolution, and the fulfillment that resolution sets up for the story’s audience.”

So to break that definition into even simpler terms:The Premise needs to have the Dramatic Issue of your story, the movement and the fulfilled resolution.

i.e. “Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing goes into great detail about what a premise is. Egri’s premise for Romeo and Juliet: ‘Great love defies even death.'”

The chat started off discussing individual Premise’ for each story but then evolved into whether as writers we have an omni-Premise for our writing. I have been reflecting quite a bit on this chat and on this subject and came up with what The Premise means to me, my individual stories and my combined writing.

Do you always have a Premise figured out before you start writing a new story?

Sometimes I do but sometimes the Premise grows from something floating above my head to something solid. It grows as I talk to my characters and find out what their story is. The Premise then becomes their answer as to why I am telling their story.

Does this mean “The Premise” is unique to my story or my characters?

No. Many writers and many stories could have the same premise but this does not make them the same story. For instance if you took Romeo and Juliet’s Premise – ‘Great love defies even death’ – I can pull up at least one other great love story that has the same Premise: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Now beyond the fact that we know over 200 years separated Mr Shakespeare and Miss Bronte, we also know that these two stories are completely different from one another.

Do all stories have a Premise? and Does a story have just one Premise?

Yes. All stories have a Premise. The Premise is the core and the foundation of your story.

One Premise? This is a catch-22. You could argue that a story could have many different Premise’ but ultimately I believe there is one core Premise that is the foundation. Just like a building of brick, concrete or wood has only one foundation. A story is also a building, it is built from words and imagination.

Do I have  an Omni-Premise that is the foundation of all my stories?

Your stories may all be very different whether that be in terms of genre, category or voice. But if you look at them even closer do you perhaps see a thread of thought, call it moral for argument’s sake, that twines its way through all your stories?

I realised that for myself there is an Omni-Premise that is at the heart of all my stories. Indeed I even find that same thread winding its way through my poetry as well.

My Omni-Premise is:

Trials and Tribulations are the diamond dust that polish a noble and pure soul into a shining gem that can survive the heat of any soul-fire and through that polishing it grows into the person it is meant to be.

I realised my stories are about those characters that are viewed as externally vulnerable but have an inner core of independence, refusing to be called “victim”, are always being tested by trials and tribulations. My stories are about survival and my main characters finding the courage to survive against all odds. Indeed it is only through their suffering that my characters find their true path as survivors. I am always drawn to the darker subjects because life is not a bed of roses but a life lived without trials ensures a soul that has not been tested for its true strength. I find my reading habits all have this Premise to them. Of course I read many types of stories being the bookworm that I am but the ones that I re-read and the ones that resonate deep within me all have this surviving in the heart of trouble/darkness/conflict. I guess you could say that though I am drawn to darker subjects…I look for the rainbow after every storm. Without storms there can be no rainbow.

So what is your Premise for the story you are working on? Do you have an Omni-Premise that threads its way through all of your writings? Are you drawn to certain types of stories? Why? What sort of stories do you want to tell?

© All Rights Reserved Kim Koning

8 thoughts on “What is your Story’s Premise?

  1. Great post on Story Premise Kim. Started reading on the bus. Thank you on this. The whole premise thing actually gets you into what you need to know about your characters leading you on to the right road for your novel.

    1. Thanks Nanette. I am pleased you found it useful. Yes it is incredible what an eye-opener the Premise can be. It just highlights the essentials and the core of your story. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  2. “So what is your Premise for the story you are working on?”

    Peace can grow from the ruin of war.

    “Do you have an Omni-Premise that threads its way through all of your writings?”

    Yes, but it needs restatement each time. I suppose you could say the OmniPremise is a Gem called Equity but each writing project shows a different Facet…

    “Are you drawn to certain types of stories?”

    Yes: transformation/rebirth stories…


    Because they reflect my life.

    “What sort of stories do you want to tell?”

    Glad this question is here, ’cause my book that’s coming out in May is what one author called a Documentary Novel. Its sequel will be a collection of 19 short stories–each within the same Universe as the Docu-Book and each told within the time-frame of its “parent-chapter”.

    1. Great answers Alexander. ….I love transformation/rebirth. Also love your current story’s Premise. Thanks for commenting and participating. 🙂

  3. Great post Kim- I agree that the darkness in life is the only reason we can even see the light when it does shine. How easy it is to forget the trials and tribulations we have been through when we are happy and everything is great. It is only through tears that we are able to appreciate the beauty of what is happiness and joy.
    When it comes to my novels I start with a basic premise which is abandonement and the desire to be loved and belong. That is the thread woven through the pages of my MS, like background music, it subtlely influences every scene in my work. And comes together in the culmination of belonging, and affirmation of love.
    Something to talk about? 🙂

    1. That is a beautiful thread Tee and I can definitely recognise that in your writing…Definitely another subject to add to our list. 🙂

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