Sunday, September 7, 2008

Premise of a Short Story

Good evening to everyone. The last (and my first) blog was a success. I want to thank everyone for contributing their ideas to the first lesson.

Here is the second lesson:

Premise of a Short Story

•Dennis Whitcomb in “Developing a Short Story From a Premise” says: “The premise of a story is simply a one-line explanation of your story”(112).
•Test your story by using a premise, making sure that you have character, conflict & resolution.

Oates, Joyce Carol. Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1982.

I would love to see some feedback about this. Perhaps someone would be willing to share a premise. It doesn't have to necessarily be one of a short story, but one of a novel as the idea intermingles. Has anyone read the above referenced book? If not, I do suggest it; it's great.

Let's see some more lively discussion.


DJ said...

In the screenwriting world, this is called a logline - a one (sometimes 3) sentence premise that pitches your story.

If you can't fit your story into a logline, then maybe you have to simplify your story. At the very least, a screenwriter has to find a way to fit their premise into that very short logline if they want to get an agent or producer's attention.

"Devil rocker Alec never imagined himself to be a messenger of God after he miraculously survived a bullet to the heart. But one fan does, and he's planning to kill Alec because of it." - Perfect Prophet.

Okay, that's two sentences, but it is the logline to one of my scripts. Sounds like the basics of short story writing are the same :}

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I never gave a premise thought before. I get an idea and run with it. Sometimes it's a word or a phrase that sparks my imagination. However, I am open to trying anything, especially if it brings on an amazing tale.

Thanks for the tip. I love it.


Terri Ann Armstrong, Author/Editor

Word Actress said...

I love short stories, writing them and reading them. Google Raymond Carver's 'Cathedral' if you want to see the brilliance of a true master of the short-story genre who was taken from us much too soon. Let's see, you asked us for a premise - well, here goes. This is from my short story, 'Delicato' featured in my book 'The Shadow of a Dog I Can't Forget.' 'Delicato' is the story of a flood that devastates Dane's Crossing leaving Johanna Dane to dive into this floating world that is her town in search of her twin brother Mica. Will she find him?

You know, I'm a judge for several short story contests and I've read thousands of stories at this point. I wish I could tell you what makes one story magical while another makes it into the slush pile on the floor. All good writing for me is langyage and mystery. It's compelling characters and an intriguing premise. But you know sometimes it's just a simple story told exceptionally well. Oh, if this were easy, I guess we'd all be doing it!!!!!

Starr Reina said...


Thank you for sharing that. The screenwriting world is a bit different and it's good to know. Great logline!


Everyone is different. Not all of us work with premises; but it's certainly not a bad practice to get into for pitching a manuscript. Thanks for sharing your comments.

Word Actress,

I've read Raymond Carver, he's one of my favorites. I also very much like Joyce Carol Oates. Have you read her? I could list many short stories author I like. Good premise, thank you for sharing that.

I've written short stories myself and I love it. One of mine is posted on the Suspense Magazine. Go to then to the link sponsored authors then to the link with Starr Reina on it and on the right hand side of the page, you'll see Movie Buddies. Let me know what you think of that one. Since you're a judge, I'm almost afraid to find out.

David said...

I guess I'm one of those who find the premise after writing the story. THE 3RD COVENANT is about an NYPD detective and his CSI partner investigating the murder of a Catholic priest. DELIVERANCE, which I hope to pitch to an editor shortly, is about the abduction and repeated rape of a 16 year old girl, and Det. Nat Adams' anxious search to find her before it's too late.

The first book was built around some real life events, with a heavy backdrop from an unfinished book that served as Nat's past. The 2nd book is total fiction, except for the part where the girl gets discouraged about her new found Christianity and kicking drugs during a Bible study. She's told that anyone can kick "grass" and pills. This event actually happened, and sad to say I don't know where this girl is. I hope one day to meet her again and find out that God has been watching out for her.

Starr Reina said...


No everyone uses a premise; it's helpful to some not all. I find it is because when you send the query letter to your agent or publisher, it's essentially already done.

Thanks for the comments. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Okay, cool topic. Love your blogging! Well, for a recent Fantasy Romance Short Story which my editor Terri edited. The following is the smallest logline I came up with.

Cadeyrn needs more than one night with Lissette. He needs her heart.

Does this fit the logline idea?

Hey, I'm still learning here. LOL.


Starr Reina said...


Your line, "Cadeyrn needs more than one night with Lissette. He needs her heart." is fine if that is your premise of your short story. From this, I gather that Cadeyrn is in love with Lissette and that perhaps, she is only willing to give him one night. He wants more. If I've gotten the premise correct, then you know you did your job!

Thanks for commenting! I'll wait to hear more from you and many others!


Blog Gadget