As fantasy author DK Drake, my mission is to bring you entertaining, engaging, wholesome adventures too packed with action to leave room for eye-rolling sappiness or mind-numbing fluff.
As a creative writing coach, my mission is to help authors find their voice, craft captivating stories, and finish book after book.
Here we are in week 2 of the novella writing process. Last week, we did the foundational market research and sketched our book’s cover. If you need details on those steps, check out week 1’s writing plan.
Now in week 2, we’re going to work on three of the four foundational elements of our story: the Plot Premise, the Purpose Premise, and the Place.
This is a one sentence description of what happens in your story. It needs to describe who your hero is, the conflict your hero faces and a hint at the resolution.
For instance, the plot premise of The Dragon Collector is: an orphaned teenage boy is whisked away to the dragon dimension where he must collect four dragon stalkers in order to overthrow the evil king and save the people of Zandador.
The hero: an orphaned teenage boy.
The conflict: collecting dragons that probably don’t want to be collected while fighting against a powerful enemy who is evil and endangering lives.
The resolution: saving the people and overthrowing the king.
This week, you have 90 minutes to develop your plot premise.
Now if you’re laughing and thinking, “90 minutes? I don’t need an hour and a half to write a sentence. I can do that in like two minutes.”
You probably can write a sentence in two minutes. But will it summarize the essence of your story? This one sentence is harder than it seems!
My suggestion is this: set a timer for 25 minutes and brainstorm your ideas. What is your story about? A boy? A girl? A dragon? A toad? A ghost? Narrowing in on your hero is the first thing you need to decide.
We’ll develop your hero in depth next week. Right now just figure out a general description of who your story is about. The next question to ask is: What happens to this hero?
Jot down ideas of the challenges this hero will face in your story. Your hero needs some challenges or your story will be boring. People don’t stick with boring stories.
Finally, ask yourself: what’s at stake? If your hero wins, what happens? If your hero loses, what happens? Why does your hero need to win? What does winning look like? How does your story end?
When your timer goes off, get up from your desk. Take a five minute break and come back to it. Do one more 25 minute brainstorming session. Even if you think you’ve gotten down all your ideas, write down more. Challenge yourself to explore what your story is about as far as what happens in your story. When that timer goes off, take another five minute break.
This time, your brainstorming is done. When you come back to your computer or notebook or wherever you’re writing, Set a final 25 minute timer. During this set, summarize your ideas into that one simple sentence that explains what what happens, to whom, and what’s at stake.
You have until the end of this 25 minutes to come up with this sentence. You can always tweak and edit and revise it later, but your job is to get a working plot premise done within 90 minutes.
Keep in mind you don’t have to do these 25 minute sets back to back to back. You can do them three days in a row, two one day and one the next, or whatever works with your schedule. But do all three sets with no distractions for 25 minutes at a time.
And keep writing for the entire 25 minutes even if you started the set with a brilliant sentence. If you stop with that sentence, you deprive yourself of the chance to come up with something even better. So keep writing.
After you have completed your 90 minutes of working on your plot premise, it’s time to spend 60 minutes working on your purpose premise.
This is another simple one-sentence description of what your story is really about.
This is also referred to as the theme of your story. The purpose. The reason your story matters.
The Purpose Premise is the lesson your hero will learn as a result of the experiences within the story. It’s also the lesson your reader will learn from reading your story.
It’s not just any random lesson. It’s something you believe. It’s your conviction. And your story’s job is to prove your conviction is true. Because you believe this, you have something important to share. That means your story matters.
No one else can tell this story and prove this premise the way you can. This is why you are not allowed to give up on your story or yourself. This is why you have to do the hard things and put in the effort and push through no matter what any one else says.
You have an important story to tell. So tell it. That starts by being super clear about your story’s purpose.
Here’s a simple formula for you to use: ______ leads to ______. The first blank describes an action your character takes. Unlike your plot premise that describes an external action, this describes an internal action or a motivation.
The “leads to” part of the sentence explains the internal conflict that exists as a result of that action.
The final blank describes the resolution or outcome.
Your purpose premise thus needs something your character does, a conflict that occurs because of that action, and a resolution, the consequences of the choices your character made.
For instance, you could write aa story about how misplaced loyalty leads to destruction. Or how trust leads to belonging.
If you don’t believe that trust leads to belonging, though, you won’t be able to write a very convincing or interesting story.
Dig deep here. What do you believe in? What is your story really about?
Going back to the example of The Dragon Collector, the purpose premise is this: sticking to your strengths leads to living your dreams.
Brainstorm your purpose for 25 minutes, take a five minute break, then brainstorm more ideas for the next 25 minutes.
By the end of that hour, you’ll have your working purpose premise.
The final foundational step you will take this week on your novella is to describe the place where your story happens. This is otherwise known as your story’s setting. I just like to call it the place cause it works well with the P alliteration I have going on here.
If you only have three hours to work on your story this week, use the last 30 minutes of your writing time to describe your world. If you have more time, use it to build out your world.
If it’s a fantasy world, what makes it fantastic? What does it look like? What does it smell like? What do people wear? How did your world come into existence? What kind of animals are there? What makes your world unique?
If it’s a historical novella, what was life like during your story’s time period? You may need to do some research here to get the details right, but start with brainstorming what you imagine.
If it’s a modern day story like the one I’m working on it, where does it take place? A real city or town, or one that is made up but like a real place? What does it look like? Sound like? Smell like?
Even though I am a terrible artist, one thing I do is sketch out a map of my world as well as specific settings like houses or buildings or towns. Then I’ll translate those sketches into words. So this foundational step doesn’t have to be spent writing. You can use it to sketch what you see.
All right. There you have it. Three steps to take in 3-5 hours to build foundational elements of your story.
Step one: take 90 minutes to develop the one sentence summary of your story’s plot. This is your plot premise or the external action events that happen in your story.
Step two: take 60 minutes to develop the one sentence summary of what your story is really about. This is your purpose premise or the internal events that explains why your story matters. Use the the formula of ______ leads to ______.
Step three: take a minimum of 30 minutes to describe your setting or your world. Describe it in words or sketch it out.
Now world-building isn’t something you can complete in 30 minutes, but you can use that time to get enough of an idea to be able to start your story. If you need to take more time here, take it.
These are the three things I’ll be working on this week during my writing practices. We’re in this together, my friend. You can do this. You matter. Your story matters. Make the time to write, and come share your progress in the comments.