When I first started writing my debut novel, I had no idea about the moral premise of a book. Thank goodness by the time I got around to writing Sofi’s Bridge my latest release (May 2016) I know what premise is.
All I knew was, for my first novel, I had an idea about a woman who was married to a philandering alcoholic and falls helplessly in love with an honorable Christian man. A good idea, but I needed to develop this into my premise, not only to sell my novel to an agent or acquisitions editor, but most especially to potential readers. Besides, since my audience was CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) how was I going to write this book that dealt with the difficult subject of spousal abuse, divorce, and falling in love with another man without being called a heretic? I believe in the sanctity of marriage, so my moral premise had to show that.
It wasn’t until my second novel that I learned about premise. I’m now writing my eighth novel, so to save you some time here is what I’ve learned:
- Your Moral Premise is the germ of your book.
- Your Moral Premise is your entire novel summed up in one single sentence (and showing the moral arc)
I start out with five basic keys to a novel.
- CHARACTER: What does your character want?
- CIRCUMSTANCES: What event propels your character out of their ho-hum life and into a story journey?
- CONFLICT: What tension keeps your characters from attaining their goals?
- CATACLYSM: That building disaster pulls them back, with worsening situations until…
- CLIMACTIC OUTCOME: The catastrophe will destroy your character or they will overcome the dilemma and achieve their goal.
For an object lesson, I have dissected Shadowed in Silk (my first book) step-by-step below.
- CHARACTER: Abby Fraser is a young but lonely married woman with a 3-year-old boy who all her life has felt invisible to those who should have loved her.
- CIRCUMSTANCES: The First World War is over at last, and Abby and her son sail to India to be reunited with her soldier husband.
- CONFLICT: But Abby discovers that her husband is a philandering, abusive alcoholic. To make matters worse Abby becomes attracted to a kind Christian man who would be shocked and dismayed if he knew how she felt about him.
- CATACLYSM: The political situation in India worsens, and the mistress of Abby’s husband (along with an enemy of her husband) uses this opportunity to kidnap Abby’s little boy, forcing Abby to choose the Christian ideals that Geoff, her godly protector, has tried to teach her.
- CLIMACTIC OUTCOME: Geoff goes out to the desert to rescue Abby’s son, but so too does Abby’s husband, and in the desert, as Abby learns to lean on God for all her needs, it is there that God decides who lives and dies, and who will be Abby’s husband.
Now I take those five points and condense them into one, strong moral premise that will be the backbone of my novel, and something I can recite to people in thirty seconds or less.
FINAL PREMISE FOR SHADOWED IN SILK
A young mother in the last days of the Indian Raj with an abusive husband fights a forbidden attraction to the godly man who tries to protect her and her son, until a dangerous upheaval forces her to choose the godly ideals of her protector, ideals that will not only lead her away from him but also away from her abusive husband.
Toughing it out through Shadowed in Silk only made things easier when it came time to write Sofi’s Bridge. The lesson regarding Premise is one that I learned the hard way, having written my entire debut novel with no clue what premise was. I could have shaved a few years off the writing of that first novel if only I’d known what I know now. Thankfully my latest book has a strong premise.
Click here on Sofi’s Bridge to read the first chapter.
BACK OF THE BOOK FOR SOFI’S BRIDGE
Seattle Debutant Sofi Andersson will do everything in her power to protect her sister who is suffering from shock over their father’s death. Charles, the family busy-body, threatens to lock Trina in a sanatorium—a whitewashed term for an insane asylum—so Sofi will rescue her little sister, even if it means running away to the Cascade Mountains with only the new gardener Neil Macpherson to protect them. But in a cabin high in the Cascades, Sofi begins to recognize that the handsome immigrant from Ireland harbors secrets of his own. Can she trust this man whose gentle manner brings such peace to her traumatized sister and such tumult to her own emotions? And can Neil, the gardener continue to hide from Sofi that he is really Dr. Neil Galloway, a man wanted for murder by the British police? Only an act of faith and love will bridge the distance that separates lies from truth and safety.
Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction. Born in N. Ireland, it was tales of her ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in Colonial India that inspired her historical trilogy, Book 1 Shadowed in Silk, Book 2 Captured by Moonlight, and the explosive finale Veiled at Midnight. Her Irish wit and joy in the use of setting as a character is evident in her contemporary romance Londonderry Dreaming and in Sofi’s Bridge coming May 2016.
Aside from being a busy writer and speaker, Christine is the happy wife of David of 35 years, a mom and a grandma. She makes her home on the west coast of Canada, and in Aug. 2016 she will see her long-awaited non-fiction book released, Finding Sarah, Finding Me: A Birth Mother’s Story.