The Story Premise that Pitches the Novel

The Story Premise that Pitches the NovelI’ve found multiple sources of the Story Premise that pitches the novel. Longer than a simple logline, shorter than either a plot summary or a full elevator pitch, the story premise neatly conveys the essence of the entire novel.

The Story Premise is another type of short summary of what the story is about. But this one must include mention of the main character, central problem and the stakes.

A plus B plus C

The Story premise as I have it from a couple of years ago has a premise formula:

[Book name] is about [character] who must [achieve a goal] at the risk of [stakes, opposition, consequences]

My difficulty with it is the somewhat flat, plot-centric summary that comes out of the first draft. Here are the initial story premises for my fantasy series…

The Ghost and the Vipers is about Jovanka, a half-blood Seer, who must survive the Outlands to find her Grey Rider, at the risk of capture by Radek, his undefeated company of Vipers and an unseen tracker who kills for pleasure.

The Seer and the Vipers is about Jovanka who must keep her found-family together while evading the Brotherhood, a fire mage, and the First Company of the Vipers, led by a ruthless commander who once tried to kill her.

City of Vipers is about Jovanka, who must return to the Capitol to assassinate the Emperor, before the Brotherhood, the Lances and the Sisters of the Scildan discover her found-family and end them all.

The formulaic focus on plot makes the whole thing sound hum-drum and uninspiring.

Work it

If I take the elements of the story premise but drop the formulaic construction, I can produce something much more enticing.

The Ghost and the Vipers follows Jovanka’s struggle to overcome her past and her tainted legacy of magic. Pursued by the Emperor’s tracker and the undefeated Vipers, she must find the Grey Rider and fulfill the destiny shown in her Sight. Only with his help can she survive the hunt and forge a new identity in an uncertain world.

It still has the title, main character, goal, stakes, opposition and consequences. But the focus is much tighter on character and theme, rather than plot and external goals. It also leans into some of the story elements of the fantasy genre.

Let’s try Book Two.

In The Seer and the Vipers, the hunt intensifies. The Sight Jovanka relies on is broken. Her once-certain destiny dissolves into a storm of possible futures that threatens to overwhelm her. The Vipers and a fire mage pursue the found-family she gathers around her. The Emperor’s Seer, the Brotherhood and a ruthless commander stalk her. Escape is a fragile hope, if only she can martial her Sight and accept the sacrifice of those who trust in her.

Both reworkings of the story premise are longer than the formulaic originals, but they work harder and deliver more punch, more intrigue.

Dial it Up

Let’s go for full Hollywood trailer melodrama for Book Three.

In the City of Vipers, Jovanka becomes the hunter, if only she can lead her family of outcasts and rebels into the heart of Empire. Against the Brotherhood, the Coterie, and the unbeatable Sisters of the Scildan, survival is a distant hope. But she has no other path. The time is now: the Empire must fall.

It’s shorter, tighter and more dramatic. As the story premise that pitches the novel, it has the book name, main character, goal, opposition, stakes and consequences. However, we’re back to external plot rather than internal goals and theme. Anyone can do plot, what readers want are characters in transformation. This version doesn’t really do that.

No One Size

I suspect I’ll keep reworking the story premise in different forms. I’ll have to manage expectations, though. I don’t think there’s one supreme version that can capture all those elements; it’s all about priorities and choices.


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