Writing a novel is easy. All you have to do is sit down at the computer and write.
Writing a good novel? Well, that’s a bit harder.
A good novel starts with a good idea. What we call a premise. A premise is the basic, underlying story. In essence, it is what the book is about. It is the central idea that makes people want to read the book. This is particularly so when it comes to genre fiction, where there is a certain expectation that your novel fit within certain guidelines yet still maintain a sense of originality and uniqueness.
The premise for my Templar Chronicles series (Heretic, A Scream of Angels, and A Tear in the Sky) is that modern Templar Knights are acting as a secret combat squad for the Vatican and protecting mankind from the supernatural threats and enemies that surround us. The premise for my forthcoming novel, The Book of Coming Sorrows, started with a simple question – what if? What if the apostle John wrote another book after he wrote the book of Revelation? What if that book brought about the cataclysmic events in Revelation when it was read aloud? What if that long, lost manuscript was discovered suddenly in New York City and someone began reading it?
It has always been my view that you should be able to define the premise of your book in a single sentence.
Yes, I said one.
One sentence only.
If you can’t, you really don’t know what your book is about. (Some people will argue with that statement, believing that a novel is too complex to be reduce to a single sentence, but I’ve always felt that it needed to be broken down to its smallest denominator.)
So, step one in writing a novel – come up with a premise. Make it interesting. Make it exciting. And make it a single sentence.
- Shorter is definitely better. Try for under twenty words.
- No character names. Be generic. Say “Templar Commander” rather than “Knight Commander Cade Williams,” for instance.
- Reads book summaries from places like the New York Times bestseller list for examples.
- Figure out what character has the most to lose in the story – and then tell what he or she wants to gain.
An interesting aside regarding the premise I mentioned above. In the history of my story world, there had been a reconciliation between the Templar Knights and the Vatican during the Second World War, when it became apparent that Hitler had begun to rely on infernal assistance in his quest for world domination. More than one purist wrote to say that the idea that the Knights would ever cooperate with the Vatican was ridiculous – after all, it had been the Church that had declared them apostate, seized their property and possessions, and had their Grand Master burned at the stake. When the subject was raised during an interview, my response was that I was playing a game of “What If “and having the Templars put away their past grievances to face a threat of that magnitude did not stretch my notions of the Templars’ dedication to their faith and their ideals.
Well, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Several months ago the BBC wrote about a document discovered in the Vatican Secret Archives that is a record of the heresy trials that led to the Order’s excommunication and disbandment by Pope Clement V in the 14th century. It seems that not only did the trial exonerate the Templars on the charge of heresy, but that Clement actually had to ask the Order for their pardon for what had been done to them.
And if this indeed happened, then the idea that the two groups might unite to face a greater threat in the future is not so outlandish after all.
Start with a strong premise and your book will find the legs it needs to stand on its own.
So – what’s the premise of the story you are working on now? Share it with us here in the comments section.