5 Steps for Creating a Plot Premise

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5 Steps for Creating a Plot Premise

Anybody Can Write a Novel 2.0

Chapter 4 “Creating a Plot” – Section 2 “Plot Premise”


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"Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him."

-Mel Brooks

Ask a beginning writer what their story is about, and you'll likely be rewarded with a long and tedious monologue about their world, characters, and story ideas—told in such a way that reveals that they really can't answer the question without telling the entire story. If you are trying to gain reader interest or even publish your work you need to be able to answer that question in a clear and concise way; this is a task often more difficult than creating a plot. For this reason, it is important to learn how to create a “Plot Premise.” But the plot premise does not only exist for the reader; it is equally important to the author, during the process of writing. There is a common flaw in novels, which you see in ones where the world and characters seem to simply exist to promote the cause of either the protagonist or the antagonist. The reason is that we authors sometimes perceive the central plot of the book to be so important, that we forget that other characters have their own lives, desires, antagonistic forces, and needs. In order to avoid this oversimplification story and the sort of bland characters that draw little to no reader interest, we will begin writing plot premises for all the characters in your story. Note that this chapter will rely on some of the concepts from the previous tutorial on Plot Outlines, but we'll be needing it for the chapter on character development, ahead.

Step 1: Establish basic information about each character in your story. (Beginning)

Create a list of all the characters that you have in your story. Among them will be heroes, sidekicks, enemies, mentors, and every other sort of character that you can imagine. Now, if we want them to be more than obstacles or foot-stools for the plot, we need to give them their own story within the overarching plot—beginning with who they are apart from the protagonist's immediate quest. Be sure to use terms that are fairly generic and self-explanatory if you plan on showing this list of character to a Writing Partner. To illustrate what I'm talking about, lets look at a supporting character from JK Rowling's Harry Potter book series, named Dobby, and how the plot premise for his personal story-arc could be worded by using the below fill-in-the-blank plot premise template for each step of the tutorial.

Once upon a time there lived a “house-elf named Dobby” who was a “magical slave to a family of dark wizards” and lived in “a magical land of wizards and magic”.

Step 2: Figure out what change in your character's life triggers the story for them, (Inciting Incident).

Whether you are looking at a hero who lifts a magical sword from a stone, a villain who falls into a tub of radioactive chemical waste, or a side-character who is very sad because everybody keeps knocking over his cart of cabbages, there must be an action which leads to the initiation of their own personal story. You don't have a warrior monk, meditating in a temple, who simply decides that a quest of epic proportion sounds like a good idea. So decide what event pulls them into their own story.

Until, one day “Dobby overheard his master's plot to kill the boy-wizard Harry Potter—who had killed the dark lord of the evil wizards”.

Step 3: Decide how your protagonist determines to react to the change. (Call to Action)

Once there is an action that brings the character into the story, you need to be able to communicate that character's role, afterward. Remember that this should not exist for plot or character convenience, but should be in line with each character's personality, wants, and desires. As a good character (as in a character who ultimately wants to help our hero, Harry Potter) the easy and convenient thing that Dobby could have done would have been to simply tell Harry everything that was happening with the Malfoy family and the diary of Tom Riddle. However, as a creature with rather limited understanding, ruled by fear and strict regulations, and who didn't really know Harry, he instead served as an obstacle in Harry's plot-line.

In reaction, “Dobby” decided to “try to prevent Harry from attending the wizard school, where he would be killed.” (Call to Action).

Step 4: Determine what “Antagonistic Force” will try to prevent the protagonist from achieving their goal.

The story of each character is made dynamic and interesting, not if they immediately achieve their goal, but instead when they struggle and fail to complete their objectives because something or someone is in the way. This struggling and failure is what builds character, inspires them to grow stronger, or makes them think creatively in order to achieve their goals n(all much more interesting than just immediately getting what you want). Remember that the Antagonistic Force does dot have to be a villain; it can be another character, several characters, nature, god, society, self, or even a challenge in and of itself. Just make sure that there is some force that is keeping the protagonist from his or her goal.

However, “Dobby's” efforts were impeded by “Harry Potter's determination to stay at Hogwarts” which Dobby feels he has to overcome.

Step 5: Put the pieces together, and finalize your Plot Premise.

By putting the Plot Premise together for your main protagonist, you will create an effective, brief, clear, and concise premise for your entire novel. This will have the potential to hook readers, tell them immediately if they will be interested in your work, and do so without revealing any spoilers. For every other character, you will be creating supporting story arcs, character arcs, and an abundance of rich story-material to bring your novel to life. Eventually, many of your plot-premises will stretch and become full, Twelve Point Plot Outlines for a character's full story-arc (as we could very easily do for Dobby). However, not all characters will be featured for a long enough time for a full storyarch, which is why we need the Plot Premise to give them all the elements of real characters who exist in their own right—no matter their level of contribution to the overall plot. Once you have filled in your template, feel free to smooth it out a bit by changing the wording to make each premise as concise and clear as possible.

The story is about a protagonist named “___” who was a “___” and lived in “___” (Prologue). Until, one day “___”. (Inciting Incident). In reaction, “___” decided to “___” (Call to Action). However, “___”'s efforts were impeded by “___” (Antagonistic Force), which “___” feels has he/she has to overcome.

Weekly Recommended Reading: “The Stand” by Stephen King. (To analyze the power of giving each character of the story their own personal story-arc, sets of goals, and challenges).

Write-a-Novel Exercise 4.2

Begin a list of all the characters that you will need for your novel (protagonists, antagonists, and even supporting characters). Write a Plot Premise for each character's personal character arch. Next week we will begin our chapter on filling our worlds with a full cast of characters, and we will expand this list as we progress.

Critique other people's work by making sure that each character's action seem genuine.

Click here to submit your exercise. 


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ShadowoftheMoon138's avatar
How would you adjust it for the antagonist(s)? 
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
You can see how I adjusted it in the example I did (will link below). It really shouldn't be very different or more complex. You're just gauging the desires and reactions of your antagonist. 

ShadowoftheMoon138's avatar
Zhiraf's avatar
I may have a bit of a strange question about this exercise: How do you choose when to write the plot premise for each supporting character? Does it have more to do with the events needed in order for that character to come into contact with the protagonist within the story itself, or can it be the greater picture or overarching plot? For example I have one character that has 2 potential places where I could write a plot premise for. The first are the events that lead him to becoming the leader of the nation (which would set up his eventual position and difficulties which my main character would exploit) or I could choose the point that appears within the context of the story plot when the story protagonist does find a way to threaten and force his will on him. (I aplogise if this is a rather pointless question)
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
No, it's a perfectly valid question. My answer would be that the exercise is meant to give your character an active and dynamic role within the story, as well as to make them more three-dimensional. So it would probably be best to pick the plot premise for each character in the way that is most relevant to the immediate plot. 
Zhiraf's avatar
Okay, I think I understand. Thank you for all the help.
Graeystone's avatar
What I try to do- Start from 'the simple parts then move to the complex parts.'

For example John Doe-
Simple parts - Sense of humor, villain, cruel, muscular, short, balding, blue eyes.

Complex parts - Relationship with his family and how his family rejected him which caused him to go full villain. How John looks a people as 'ants to be stepped on.' His increasing rage because the hero(es) keep ruining his schemes.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Yes, I have lately been doing these lists in addition to my plot premises, along with a sketch. Which I'm really bad at, but it helps with physical descriptions. 
InstilledPhear's avatar
This is fantastically helpful. I usually go into my writing gung-ho with absolutely no plan and hope it turns out somewhat decent. I appreciate you simplifying the process! I'll take your suggestions to heart and practice plotting.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
I used to do the same thing. 

I hope the process helps you as much as it has helped me. 
Estabon-Maximoto's avatar
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
haha, I'm glad you caught that :D
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