What to Say When People Ask What Your Book is About

NaNo is just around the corner. And if your family or relatives are anything like mine, they’re going to ask what you’ve been up to recently when you visit some for Thanksgiving.

And if you love writing just as much as I do (hah, who am I kidding. Not possible!), you’ll most likely respond with “I’ve been doing a lot of writing.”

And then: “Oh, what are you writing?”

And you, wondering how to explain it: “A—a novel.”

And that dreaded question: “Oh, what’s it about?”

That dreaded question.

How do you explain that your half-mermaids have to save the oceanic world from evil half-sea monsters while falling in love with them in their human lives before all dying a dramatic death… without rambling on and on and sounding like a lunatic?

Or even more frustrating… what if you barely have anything figured out yet?

That, my friends, is where the premise sentence comes in.

Once we have some basic ideas and brainstorming down, what’s the use if we don’t take full advantage of them? Creating a good premise sentence helps you discover your story’s basic facts and solidify conflict, character, and plot.

All you’ve gotta do is answer a few basic questions. We’ll go along with our half-mermaid saving the oceanic world example with a few of the most basic questions. These are based on K.M. Weiland’s questions found in Outlining Your Novel Workbook, and more questions for the premise sentence can be found there.

Basic Premise Sentence Questions (with example)

Who’s the protagonist? A group of half-mermaids.

What’s his situation at the beginning of the story? Each of them are separately, frustratingly discovering their ability to turn into mermaids when submerged in water.

What’s the protagonist’s main goal? To figure out what to do with their new mermaid abilities.

Who or what is the antagonist, the big bad guy? A group of evil half-sea monsters who want to take over the world.

What early disaster will happen to the protagonist and force him out of his “normal world” and into the main conflict? After becoming aware of the dangers threatened in the oceanic world by the evil half-sea monsters, one of the half-sea monsters sees the group of girls from school turn into half-mermaids and knows they were the ones eavesdropping on the bad guys in the oceanic world. Now the half-mermaids have to fight to keep their abilities a secret from the human world.

What conflict will arise from the hero’s reaction to the disaster? The beginning of wars waged between the half-mermaids and the half-sea monsters.

What’s the logical flow of cause and effect that’ll allow this conflict to continue throughout the story? A back-and-forth struggle between the half-mermaids and half sea-monsters in the human world concealing their secret abilities, as well as the battles to protect the oceanic world down below.

What’s the focus of your story? Fun rivalry dramaticness and the protagonists and antagonists falling in love. See, I’d totally write something like this, despite the fact I think it’s cheesy and don’t like fantasy.

What will be its genre? YA fantasy.

Who will be its intended audience? Most likely youth.

Tada! Now, using the information we’ve gathered in the above sentences, we can put together a premise sentence—or two, if our story is just too juicy to cram it all into one. Warfare‘s premise sentence required a hefty two.

(I wanted to use Warfare‘s premise sentence stuff as an example, but I’m writing this post in Texas and don’t have that particular notebook with me. It’s saddening, I know.)

Our Half-Mermaid Story Example:

A group (situation) of half-mermaids (protagonist) want to get rid of (objective) their newfound abilities to form tails when submerged in water. But when their powers are discovered (disaster) by a gang of evil half-sea monsters who happen to be their own classmates (opponent), they must fight (conflict) to save the newly-discovered oceanic world—while trying to avoid falling in love.

Another version of the premise sentence is a log line. It’s used in the film industry and helps the author of any story distill the essence of what our stories are really about.

K.M. Weiland gives us two templates to use in Outlining Your Novel Workbook.

Log Line Template #1

A (descriptor) (protagonist) must (do something) that will (set up) a (climactic encounter) with a (descriptor) (antagonist).

Half-Mermaid Story Example:

A group (descriptor) of half-mermaids (protagonist) must defend the oceanic world (do something) that will inevitably lead to a sea battle (descriptor) with a gang of evil half sea-monsters (antagonist).

Log Line Template #2

After (something happens) to (set things up), a (descriptor) (protagonist) must (do something) that will (set up) a (climactic encounter) with a (descriptor) (antagonist).

Half-Mermaid Story Example:

After their abilities to form tails when submerged in water are found out (something happens) (to set things up), a confused group (descriptor) of half-mermaids (protagonist) must use their powers to defend their oceanic world (do something), leading them closer and closer (set up) to a feared sea battle with a gang (descriptor) of evil half-sea monsters (antagonist).



Not only do you have facts down about your story and have discovered the main flow of plot, conflict, and character, now you have an organized and interesting little blurb to quickly give any well-meaning family and friends when they ask what your book is about—even if you don’t have every single detail figured out yet!

Premise sentences and log lines have really helped me figure out the basic essence of what my story is about and give me the big-picture overview. And because I like doing things like this, I’m actually working on memorizing it so I can impress my relatives with it when they ask! 😉

… Instead of my generic answer: “Uh… it’s hard to explain. But basically about a ninja and a samurai who fall in love… um, it’s also a series, and all these warriors find each other, find love and God and salvation… uh… it’s not plotted yet—I’m still working on it?”

O_o

Yeah, that was their reaction, too.

But thankfully, no more, you genius! Premise sentence, log line, whatever it is, time to wow your friends & fam with a quick blurb about your book when they ask. And help identify the essence of your story while you’re at it—even if you’re not an avid plotter, you’ll be able to see where you’re going and have a clear direction.

Do you have a premise sentence / log line for your story? I’d love to read it!

Seriously wishing I had typed Warfare‘s premise sentences up so I could share them. But these mermaid story ones were fun to create. I do have a lot of info, updates, and snippets about my WIP Warfare in my previous post if you’d like to check them out!

Do you like writing-related posts? I’m thinking of doing more as we approach NaNoWriMo. What do you think?

Resources:

Outlining Your Novel Workbook, K.M. Weiland

Do You Know the 6 Must-Have Elements of a “Wow” Story Premise?, K.M. Weiland

Disclaimer:

The story example is completely fake. If it sounds like anyone else’s story, it’s unintentional.

By | 2017-10-14T14:14:14+00:00 October 13th, 2017|Writing|44 Comments

About the Author:

Hey! I'm Madi, a blogger, writer, doll collector, & minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can learn more about me by clicking here and more about this blog by clicking here.

44 Comments

  1. M&M October 14, 2017 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Cool! I’m not writing a novel, but I am planning on writing one soon. I’ve had a few ideas but, I just cant think of any good ones…. have any ideas of how to come up with an idea sorta story? XD

    M&M-

    • Madi October 14, 2017 at 3:13 pm - Reply

      Thanks! LOL! XD Yeah! You could start with brainstorming. Ask yourself “what if” questions.

      “What if this girl realized she had mermaid powers?”
      “What if someone saw that she had them?”
      “What if that someone was an evil half-sea monster?”

      Etc, etc. That way you come up with plenty of ideas for your story!

  2. Olive October 14, 2017 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Sweet! Totally using this. Very helpful. 🙃
    Most crazily, ~Olive

    • Madi October 15, 2017 at 8:09 pm - Reply

      Yay, I’m so glad! *thumbs up emoji*

  3. Danielle October 14, 2017 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Great post Madi! I don’t like to talk about my WIPs in public. I usually just say, “It’s a secret” or, “I’d rather not say.” XD This is super helpful!

    ~Danielle

    • Madi October 15, 2017 at 8:09 pm - Reply

      “I’d rather not say” 😂😂 Thanks so much, Danielle!

  4. Kendra Lynne October 14, 2017 at 9:05 pm - Reply

    Man; this was helpful! I’m probably going to have to practice for Thanksgiving! 😀

    • Madi October 15, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      Hurray, I’m so glad! 😀 Hehe, I’m gonna have to practice, too! XD

  5. EnniMorgan October 15, 2017 at 12:00 am - Reply

    Ah!!!! I needed this SO much! Thank you!!!

    • Madi October 15, 2017 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      HURRAY I am so glad!! You’re so welcome!

      • EnniMorgan October 15, 2017 at 9:25 pm - Reply

        YES. I just spent the day working out my novel and THIS IS JUST SO AMAZING!

        My story is about a girl called Alexa McCarthy. She has Depression and ADHD. I know, I know, at first glance those two are IMPOSSIBLE to go together. But basically, she’s depressed has hard paying attention, and acts rashly.
        So, she has an abusive, widowed mom, so she runs away with her big sis, Delia. However, DELIA DIES. So, Alexa gets sucked into a fantasy world, (Woodwyn), where she learns how to deal with her problems and start over again. Then, when she’s ready she gets sucked back to her own world as a new person.

        • Madi October 16, 2017 at 12:34 pm - Reply

          That sounds like an AWESOME character arc! Best of luck writing your novel, it sounds amazing! Do you have a title for it yet?

          • EnniMorgan October 17, 2017 at 3:22 pm - Reply

            😀 Thank you so much – that means a lot! Well…currently the only thing I can think of is just plain Starting Over which isn’t very creative. XD Do you have any suggestions?

            • Madi October 20, 2017 at 11:21 am - Reply

              You’re so welcome! <3 LOL, that's still a cool title! XD

              What I do is find a word or phrase or theme I like and brainstorm tons of different variations to it. I recently wrote a short story featuring one of my characters who makes a lot of game analogies. Using that theme, I brainstormed a ton of different options and finally decided on "It's Not Over". Maybe that method could help you find a title!

  6. May @ Forever and Everly October 15, 2017 at 2:06 am - Reply

    Oh, I love thos post, Madi!! I’m currently struggling to actually form a plot for my novel, but I think writing premise sentencws will really help me out! Thanks for all the tips and templates. 💕

    • Madi October 15, 2017 at 8:12 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much, May!! I hope they help you — they definitely helped me! Thanks so much for commenting. ❤️

  7. Josie October 15, 2017 at 10:53 am - Reply

    So I used all three templates for three different stories (one of which I haven’t even started planning yet) instead of doing things I should be doing and I’m going to share them because why not. XD I don’t really talk about writing, though. I kinda avoid it? Not sure why.
    Anyway:
    1. Quiet, reserved Hadley always wished to be born an Elemental, but now she’s stuck in the shadow of her super-prodigy fiancé. When he disappears and leaves the town defenseless, Hadley has the chance to rise up and defeat the threat of a rebellion, even without magical abilities.
    2. Two best-of-their-class heroes with a special hatred for each other must work together on a mission that will force them to realize maybe “good guys” aren’t so good after all.
    3. After Kamri Taylor attempts to run away, she must find a new way to fit into her old life that will take her places she’s never been before – if she can avoid being hindered by the past.

    • Madi October 15, 2017 at 8:13 pm - Reply

      😱 ALL YOUR STORIES SOUND AMAZING. You’re gonna write the last one first? >:) PLEASE TELL ME YOU’LL WRITE ALL OF THEM.

      • Josie October 15, 2017 at 9:03 pm - Reply

        Thank you! Haha, yeah. The first one is a video game, because storytelling and stuff, but I’m probably also going to make it a book BECAUSE ARRANGED MARRIAGES AND OTHER FUN STUFF. And hopefully the second one. I’ve got plans. >:)

        • Madi October 16, 2017 at 12:33 pm - Reply

          Oooh Rise >:) HEHE ARRANGED MARRIAGES.

  8. Abby Smith October 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    So many people have been asking me this question for some reason, and right before NaNo! Usually I’m lazy and say “It’s about segregation in the 1960’s” instead of going into plot details. No one ever asks for them so I guess they think it’s boring…?

    • Madi October 16, 2017 at 12:34 pm - Reply

      But hey, you should wow them with an epic premise sentence and make them think it’s not boring. 😎😎😎

  9. The Musical Adventurer October 16, 2017 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this! It gets awkward sometimes when I have to explain my fantasy stories to someone 😀

    • Madi October 16, 2017 at 12:35 pm - Reply

      You’re so welcome! Thank you so much for commenting! LOL, I know, right? XD

  10. Maddie October 17, 2017 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    Ooooh this was super helpful to read!! Usually when somebody asks me I’ll be like “yeah, so, this guy is like evil and there’s this girl who’s a barista- oh yeah which reminds me there’s also this other guy who like, dies tragically. By eating a poisoned tomato. Speaking of tomato- I’ve gotta go check on the pizza. Remind me to tell you about the story later (not) Ciao!!!” XD
    P.S. you’re letter came safe and sound 😉 I’ll get mine in the mail within the next few days.

    • Madi October 20, 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

      Oooh YAY!

      LOLOL! Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious!! I’m dying laughing right now. XDD

      P.S. Hurray! I can’t wait to read it!

  11. Kendall October 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    Oh, yay! I want to use this now! A boy at my church was asking me about my hobbies last January, and I said wiriting and he asked the inevitable question- What about?
    My answer was, “Well, it’s a trilogy I’m co-writing with my BF about an orphan girl who joins the kind of “air force” in her galaxy. The galaxies are like countries and the planets are like states and so she joins the “air force” and has to defeat an enemy who is picking off political figures to gain power in the galaxy.”
    Yeah. Like you said, his face was O.O
    He hasn’t spoken to me since.
    XD
    Anyway, this will definitely help! Thanks!

    • Madi October 20, 2017 at 11:29 am - Reply

      LOLOL! Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. XDD But your story sounds epic!

      Aww, I’m so glad! Thank you so much for commenting! 😀

      • Kendall October 23, 2017 at 11:00 am - Reply

        Yeah, lol, and he gives me weird looks whenever we pass each other in the foyer. *shrugs* I’m a writer. 😛 Thanks!

        • Madi October 24, 2017 at 2:10 pm - Reply

          LOL! Oh my gosh, that’s so hilarious. XDD

  12. Annie Cate October 20, 2017 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Hi Madi Grace!!!! Recently, I’ve been reading your blog and positively LOVING it, so I wanted to let you know I’ve nominated you for the Liebster Award!!! There is a post on my blog that explains it, so I hope you’ll accept because, let’s be honest: you deserve this!

    In Christ,

    Annie from Musings of a Teen Girl’s Mind

    • Madi October 24, 2017 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Hey, Annie! Aww, thank you SO much! I’m so glad you found it!

      Aww, you’re so sweet! Thank you so much for the award! What’s the link to your blog? Clicking on your name takes me to Raising Andersons, which I followed, but do you have a link for Musings of a Teen Girl’s Mind?

      Thank you so much for commenting! <3

      • Annie Cate October 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm - Reply

        Aw, thanks for following Raising Andersons! MTGM is http://www.musingsofateengirlsmind.wordpress.com so it should take you to the right place. Have an awesome day!

        • Madi October 26, 2017 at 9:25 am - Reply

          Hurray, I followed! Your blog is so amazing, and thank you SO much for tagging me!! <3

          • Annie Cate October 27, 2017 at 8:15 am - Reply

            Awww thank you so much! And you deserve it!!! ❤️❤️❤️

            • Madi October 30, 2017 at 1:40 pm - Reply

              Awwww, that means so much!! ❤️❤️

  13. Daisy Paquet October 24, 2017 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    When people ask what my stories are about I say ‘death, cake, witty comebacks, and saving humanity. why?’

    they usually back away… very slowly…. so maybe this post was helpful XD

    • Madi October 25, 2017 at 8:11 am - Reply

      HAHA, I’m right with you on the death and witty comebacks! >:) Mm, cake and saving humanity. I really wish I had been able to beta read your recent story.

      AHAHAHA that’s just awesome. XDD

      • Daisy Paquet October 25, 2017 at 9:08 am - Reply

        XD XD Witty comebacks are the best part of writing- it’s the one place you can use them without possibly hurting people’s feelings

        If you want to, when I finish this next story you can be top of the list to read it first. 😉

        • Madi October 25, 2017 at 9:09 am - Reply

          Witty comebacks are AWESOME. I have thousands of notes and pages upon pages full of witty comebacks to use. >:)

          I would LOVE to! 😀 😉

          • Daisy Paquet October 25, 2017 at 10:05 pm - Reply

            Sameeeee! I just write them down like, ‘someday… someday, you shall see the light…’ XD

            That would be FABULOUS! 😉

            • Madi October 26, 2017 at 9:43 am - Reply

              AHAHA yes. XDD

              HURRAY! 😉

  14. bennettv October 25, 2017 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    This is totally helpful! It’s always so hard to explain to non writer friends what you’re writing about. They just can’t see your vision like you can. LOL! My log line would sorta be:

    Everlasting is a trilogy about a seventeen year old boy named Phoenix Wilder (protagonist) who after a failed government wartime experiment (something happens) finds that he is unable to age. He has been living on the run ever since from government agents (antagonist) who would do anything to silence him.

    Then he meets Grey Pike,(something happens) a boy just like him, a survivor of the experiments of the war. Grey takes him to EverLast, a place where he discovers that there are more people like him, kept hidden away under the government’s radar just waiting for their chance to live again.

    But there is a war brewing (conflict) among the people of EverLast. A group of misfit thugs (antagonist) is getting restless with the hierarchy of power. Phoenix (protagonist) must find his place among the people, all while trying not to fall in love with the daughter of one of the most powerful leaders in the sect.

    Okay, it needs some work. LOL! I think I have like four log lines in there, mostly incomplete, and that’s just the first book. haha! But still, a very helpful post, so I thank you! 🙂 <3

    Oh and I do enjoy your writing posts! I have never done NaNoWriMo and I think it's for the same reason that you decided not to do it this year. First drafts are messy and incomplete, but I find that you should still take your time with them. They are far easier to contend with when they don't look like they've been written by a first grader. 🙂

    ginnie / http://www.fakingitmostly.com

    • Madi October 26, 2017 at 9:23 am - Reply

      YAY, I’m so glad it’s helpful! <3 LOL, it really is hard!

      OOH, your log lines are epic! Your trilogy sounds incredible!

      Aww, I'm so glad you like them! <3 So true. No first draft is ever perfect, but that doesn't mean they have to be trash.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

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