Sentence, Theme, Premise

You have an idea and you know your genre and your target audience, so it’s time to move onto the next phase of planning your novel.

It’s time to work out your sentence, theme and premise. Sounds easy! If only it was.

Just about every writer I know (and I know a lot) had trouble with this. It’s not as easy as it sounds and don’t be surprised if you spend several hours trying to do this part of the series. I can assure you that it is normal.


Imagine you have a best seller and you’re sitting in a grand restaurant and someone walks up to you and asks: “What’s your novel about?”

You don’t want to bore them to tears by giving them a scene by scene description. You have to be able to tell them the essense of the story in one sentence. If they want you to expand on it after that, they will ask you questions but you need to work out a one sentence answer to begin with.

I’m going to use one of my manuscripts (The Imperial Bond) as an example.

Here’s my sentence:

    A modern day teenage girl is thrust into a fantasy world and needs to find a way home.

Pretty basic and it doesn’t talk about the problems she has along the way but anyone who reads will automatically know that it sounds easier than it really is. They will expect her to run into trouble.


What is the theme of your story? This should be no more than one or two words. Spend enough time doing this so that you really think about it because you really need to get this right.

Here is my theme:

    strength and determination

By working out the theme BEFORE you start writing, you can make sure you keep on track. Obviously, my character has to find these two things to succeed.


I found this section of the exercise difficult but once you get your head around it, it’s quite easy to work this one out.

What is the underlying message to the novel? What are you (the author) trying to convey in your writing to the reader?

My premise is:

    With strength and determination, you can achieve anything.

As an alternative, I could have: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Sentence, Theme, Premise

By working these three things out early, you are already planning where your novel is going. You have a clear idea of what you want to convey and have given yourself an anchor.

Here are some things to remember when doing this exercise:

  • It doesn’t matter who tells the story (or who dies), the theme should be two words that describe the main events. Something that runs right through the book.
  • The premise is the subtle message that the author is trying to impart on the reader without them realising it.
  • A premise should be a statement not a question.
  • You should do this for each volume of a series or trilogy.

What are your sentence, theme and premise for the novel you are writing now?

Go back to the contents page . . . | . . . Go to Part 5: Building Realistic Characters