Screenwriting Tricks for Authors

What’s Your PREMISE? — Identifying the ACTION LINE of your story

This is my entire message for today:


Whether you’re doing Preptober/Nanowrimo or not — no matter where you are in your book or script— I really urge you to do this TODAY.

  • Writing out your Premise sentence is an exercise you should be doing periodically through your writing process, to make sure you’re remembering the SPINE of your story.
  • No one ever has to see this premise sentence. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It is not going to go on the back cover of your book. It’s a roadmap for you.
  • Also, if you’re a little further on in your book or script, this will help you check in to see if the central action of the storyhas actually changedduring the writing of your first draft!
woman in pink dress holding umbrella sitting on gray concrete road during daytime

Photo by Ali Kazalon Unsplash

And to make it super easy, here’s a template you can use to write a premise sentence that will work for almost all books or scripts, and keep you on track, especially through that endless middle:

When (Inciting Incident happens), a (description of your protagonist) (sets off on this action)in order to(investigate, pursue, date, seduce, etc.) and (confront the antagonist in some way).

I’ve taught and coached a whole hell of a lot of writers for a long time, and I am telling you— completing the blanks and filling out that sentence will clarify your story faster than almost anything else you can do.

Here’s how that template works with a few well-known movies:

——When (agreat white shark begins killing swimmers in a small island town), a (city-bred and water-phobic Sheriff) must (gather a crew and go out on the open water) to (kill the beast.)

——When a (Roman general’s wife and son are brutally murderedand he himself is enslaved), the (grieving general) must (train and become the greatest gladiator in Rome)in order to get a chance to (kill the Emperor who ordered the murders.)

—— When (a charming but shallow serial dater)’s (best friend announces her engagement to a wealthy Scottish hottie),he (commits to being her maid of honor)in order to (sabotage her wedding plans) and (steal the bride from the groom).

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