Does Your Story Have Direction?

Lack of direction and form can send you [the writer] off into a trackless maze of false starts and blind alleys. ~Dwight V. Swain; Techniques of a Selling Writer

I can tell you from firsthand experience that the above quote from Dwight Swain, in his book Techniques of a Selling Writer, is in my own writing, 100% percent accurate and painstakingly true.

I’m sure we have all been there before. Out of nowhere you have a great idea for a story, it hits you like bolt of lightning and before you lose it, you sit down to capture it.

And in your anxiousness to get your book out into the world, the book that everyone has been waiting on but just waiting for you to finish, you take your genius idea and you begin to write. The excitement is almost too much to handle and the novel seems to write itself, at least in the beginning.

Then after 20,000 or in my case 30,000 words you stop. You’re grounded in your ideas. The once magic feeling of the idea doesn’t seem so magical now; the allure of it has faded. And you’re left wondering, “Where is this story going?”

That is what Dwight Swain is trying to say. Lack of direction, or focus, can send us, the writer, off into a trackless maze of false starts and blind alleys.

So if the writer needs direction and focus to steer clear of the trackless mazes, false starts, and blind alleys, and the idea doesn’t provide that, what do we need?

The Idea, although great and inspirational, is not big or strong enough to carry the full length of a novel. But there is something that can.

Welcome to the Story Premise

Maybe you have never heard of a story premise before. That’s ok; I know I didn’t when I first began to write. Then I would venture to say, you don’t know the benefits it provides you, and once you learn what it is and what it does, how essential it is to have.

That focus and direction Dwight Swain talks about, the story premise gives. The trackless mazes, false starts, and blind alleys we all want to avoid, the story premise provides a way out.

Over the next several weeks I want to go over the story premise in more detail. What it is, how it is constructed, what it does for your story, and most importantly, how it engages readers enough for them to buy your novel.

Because in reality that is what we want. We want people to spend their hard earned money on our book, and the story premise you create in the beginning will be the main reason they buy it.

For example, which one provokes you, the reader, more to buy?

A boy, after his parent’s death, lives in a cupboard under his aunt and uncle’s stairs.


An eleven year old boy finds out he is a wizard and tries to stop a dark lord from returning to life.

Do you feel the difference there?

That is how the reader sees it but how about as the writer? Take off your reader glasses for a second and put on your writing ones. Which one provides you more focus and direction to write?

Although the idea about a boy living under the stairs is interesting, it, in and of itself, is not enough to carry the full length of the novel. The latter does.

The latter, gives direction and focus to the writer. Anything that you would write would somehow fit within the confines of the premise statement. Blind alleys and trackless mazes are severely reduced if not eliminated when you have a purpose statement for your story.

And that is great way to put it, a purpose statement.

You can see why then the premise statement is beneficial to both, the potential reader and the writer. The premise delivers a purpose or promise to the reader to read your story, and if it is strong enough, the reader is engaged and buys. For the writer is provides direction and focus and lets you know if your story is strong enough.

What Makes Up a Solid Premise?

We will get into this in more detail in the coming weeks, but for those who can’t wait (you know who you are) here are some bare essential elements that need to be present within a solid premise.

  1. Lead Character (You need the focal character of the story)
  2. Conflict (What is holding the character back from what he most desires)
  3. Objective (What does the character most desire to do; what is his goal in the story)
  4. Enemy (Who opposes the main character from achieving his desires or goals)

Like other rules of writing, this one can be broken as well. But it behooves you not to meander to far from this layout.

We will go over the elements mentioned above in greater detail, and I will explain some other elements other writers have added and suggest to use within the creation of a solid premise as well.

In Conclusion

The premise of your story is the statement that keeps you focused to the end. It is bigger than any one idea in the story and is strong enough to carry the full length of the novel. It gives your story and your writing direction.

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Image Source: Serge Saint

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