The Importance of a Strong Story Premise

Scarab and the Story Premise

Scarab and the Story Premise



.A STRONG STORY PREMISE is the foundation of most successful stories.

Here are four simple guidelines for coming up with a winning premise that sets you on a path of writing a successful story:

How to write  a strong story premise:

1. Make the premise as extraordinary and unique as you can:

Rehashing old ideas from past novels and films results in unoriginal and predictable stories. The premise of Jurassic Park was unique at the time, and the box-office receipts proved it.

In my own best selling Scarab series, the original premise is: What would happen to the world if a mysterious formula, buried inside in a secret chamber beneath the Sphinx of Giza, proves to be the final link in constructing a quantum computer that can change the laws of physics?

2. Ensure that the premise statement is clear and contains a strong set-up and pay-off:

Here’s an example: The daughter of a callous hospital director is abducted by an ex-surgeon whose child has failed to qualify for a liver transplant and has died as a consequence (set-up).

This is intriguing, but not enough to motivate the story. Here’s the pay-off:

The fired surgeon kidnaps the director’s own daughter and removes her liver. The director has to find a replacement for his child’s organ, within two days, or she’ll die.

3. The concept must raise dramatic questions:

In this example, such questions are indeed raised: Will the hospital director manage to find a liver for transplantation and save his child? Will the kidnapper allow the child to die? Will the hospital director become a more compassionate and caring man, or will this experience fail to change him?

4. The premise evokes the entire story in its essential form:

Steven Spielberg defined high concept as a pithy sentence or paragraph that allows one to hold the entire story in the palm of one’s hand. A strong story premise does the same sort of thing. That’s not to say that it is predictable and devoid of twists and surprises, only that we know enough about the sort of story we’re about to experience, to hold our interest.

Together with good characterisation, emotive storytelling, good pacing, and a sense of verisimilitude, the story premise offers a method for successful storytelling.


The story premise is a short description of the story that acts as a blueprint for the entire tale. A strong premise is one that is unique, contains a strong set-up and a pay-off, and generates dramatic questions.

2 thoughts on “The Importance of a Strong Story Premise

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Good post. A strong premise usually sparks a metamorphosis that effects the characters. A character’s main goal in the beginning of the story is not necessary his main goal by the end of the story.

    In the The Prince of Egypt Moses, the main protagonist is happy with his life. It is only when he learns that he is the son of a slave that he flees from the man who raised him who is also responsible for the slaughtering of Moses’s people. the premise is extraordinary and unique : the ‘Prince’ is really the son of a slave who was adopted by a family responsible for the oppression of his people.

    The story contains a strong pay-off : Moses returns to liberate his people ( through great personal sacrifice by destroying his beloved adopted brother’s empire )

    The story raises dramatic questions : Moses literally destroys his adopted families lives to free his people. It raises the moral question – Empires(Egypt) must not be build on the back of slaves however must innocent people(Egyptians) suffer because of one man stubbornness (Ramesses)

    Take away the biblical context – The main conflict is between two brothers . The one brother has been enlightened where the other is determined to uphold his family legacy. One brother’s goal has changed whereas the other brother has no other goals.

    Summary : Ask yourself – how determined is your character to reach his/her goals.


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