Before you type the first word of your novel, you are going to want to come up with a premise. A premise is the core idea or theme of your story which will make it unique. It’s also sometimes referred to as an ‘elevator pitch’ because you should be able to explain it in the time it takes to ride up one floor on an elevator.
An example of a premise or elevator pitch could be “An ordinary boy gets sent to a school for witches and wizards” for Harry Potter. Or, “Seven friends return to their hometown to fight a demonic clown from their childhood” for IT. The exact wording of your premise will be useful later on, if you decide to apply for publishing, but for now it is for your own benefit, so don’t stress yourself out trying to get it perfect just yet.
How about trying out your pitch on a random stranger next time you’re in an elevator – you never know if they might be a literary agent!
-Image by Rennett Stowe
In my view, the sign of a great pitch would be one where you can guess the book immediately just from reading those one or two lines. It should have something which sets it apart from any other book you have read and this could be as simple as having a very small but unique twist on an already existent theme. For example, lots of books have shapeshifting demons, but Stephen King’s IT is the first I can think of to put the demon clown spin on it. There were also previous books which followed witch and wizard schools (when I was a kid, Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch was one of my favourites), but Harry Potter was the first to describe such a detailed and extensive magical community. Remember, your entire plot doesn’t have to be ground-breaking – there are so many millions of books already out there that coming up with such a plot in your first novel would be nothing short of a miracle. But there should be at least one element or twist on your theme that has not been tried before.
But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Of course, before you can start thinking about your plot, you need to know what genre you will be writing in and, if it is for children, what age group. Many people will already have a genre in mind but if you don’t, I suggest choosing one that you have read plenty of. The main benefit of this is that you will be familiar with what makes a story in your chosen area great and, equally importantly, what makes it terrible. It can be debated whether this is a good idea or not, but I personally choose to read the occasional piece that I know will be terrible (for fellow fantasy writers THIS is my gift to you – enjoy), because it gives me a good idea of the common pitfalls, many of which are unique by genre.
I know this must be the fifth time I have put in a link to My Immortal on this blog but honestly, I think everyone should read it.
As for age group; if you are writing for children, you need to think about what restrictions you will face when writing for a certain age. Clearly, you can’t write a brutal gang-land crime novel for nine-year-olds. Well, maybe you could. It would certainly be original, but finding a publisher may be a little tough. Think about what themes and language would and wouldn’t be appropriate and decide if you are willing and able to write a full novel with those restrictions hanging over you. Myself, I prefer to write for young teens and I don’t find the restrictions too daunting as some of the themes that are omitted (e.g. explicit sex, violence, swearing) are not the sort of thing I personally want to write about anyway. But you may feel differently so think carefully before choosing to try children’s literature.
One other thing you will want to think about is whether your book will be literary fiction or not. If this isn’t something you have already thought about, chances are that your answer will be “or not” as literary work usually requires a particular passion for this very technical and challenging style of writing. In short, literary fiction is a style that focuses on exploring the “human condition” with prose that are as technically correct as possible. It often addresses social or political issues but plot and action are almost never a factor. It is about achieving perfect form over an exciting story. This type of work usually takes a least some sort of training, but if it appeals to you, there are many workshops who can help you explore it.
I hope this has given you some inspiration to get started with your novel – if you enjoyed it, please click like and follow and look out for my next article on karma in your stories. Also, look out for more in the “So, you want to write a novel” series in the future, or click the shortcut at the top of the page for an archive.