I have been wondering a lot recently about a method of writing which I haven't read about anywhere but seems like it must exist. It would fall somewhere in the "plotting" style of writing, where you would plan out the story before you start. The main key being that you come up with the story separate to the plot.

This, I think, would let you start, knowing what your story is ultimately going to be about, and then write a plot that is woven around that rather than writing your plot first. This would let you freely create mystery, suspense, and twists in your plot while avoiding cliches that you will inevitably run to if you are trying to create the work "plot first".

For example, here are some movie/book stories that I have summarized (spoilers?):

a game of thrones the stark family is reluctantly pulled into royal politics and forced down a path of war when ned is killed.

fight club a schizophrenic insomniac starts a bare knuckle fight club for stress relief which turns into a dangerous underground anarchist movement.

edge of tomorrow in a war against attacking aliens, a reluctant hero stumbles upon the power to restart the day after he dies and uses it to defeat the aliens.

If you started at that point and then came up with the plot scene by scene, it seems easier than coming up with the cool plot elements and then trying to think of somewhere to go with them or how to explain them.

Anyway, this is kind of a rambling post but I was just wondering if this is actually a style of plot creation and if it is, where can I read more about it? I haven't been able to find anything. If it's not, do you think it could be or is there something wrong with the approach?

  • I'd think that most riddle-solving detective fiction is written in this way. After all, you cannot create a clever plot surrounding a murder mystery, if you don't plan who did what and what clues give the mystery away first. Think Agatha Christie. I even read a book by one crime writer explaining how he or she does this, but can't at the moment remember which book that was. Maybe "Write Away" by Elizabeth George, but I'm not sure. Look at it, and look into books on crime fiction.
    – user5645
    Jul 16, 2014 at 10:03

1 Answer 1


I have seen some books that talk about a related idea. Stanley D. Williams's The Moral Premise focuses more heavily on what life lesson the story illustrates. Williams doesn't necessarily encourage starting with the moral premise in mind. That can lead to a pitfall that I'll say more about below.

Sandra Scofield has a very nice, short audio workshop about Writing from Premise. This is not the same as Williams's moral premise. It's about what you are trying to say with the story.

Your approach less about the premise (the point you are trying to make with the story), and more like a one-line description focused on the core challenge or conflict. Some people call that the "spine" or the "through line." See for example Robert McKee's Story. Others refer to "the dramatic question," which is a related idea.

Randy Ingermanson developed an approach he calls "the snowflake method." You start with a one-liner (perhaps similar to your approach), then incrementally expand it into a plot. Lots of people like that approach.

I have never written a story starting from the spine/through-line/premise. My preference these days is to start with as little as I possibly can, and see where it goes. I don't know whether that makes my stories any better, and it frequently leads me into dead ends that I can't write my way out of, but it gets me writing.

One pitfall I've heard when writing from premise is that the story may feel forced, rather than organically arising from the characters. Depending on how strongly the premise includes a moral element, the story can come out sounding less like a story and more like a lecture.

Some writers avoid the pitfall by writing the first draft without having a theme strongly in mind. When they're done, they discover the theme in their draft. Then while they revise, they consciously edit to support the theme.

Bottom line: I think that anything that helps you put words on the page is good.

  • Yeah, after reading the snowflake method more, this is pretty much what I was talking about. Writing creatively and on the fly for each individual part of a story but knowing where it is going so you don't get stuck.
    – sartastic
    Jul 16, 2014 at 2:41
  • "One pitfall I've heard when writing from premise is that the story may feel forced, rather than organically arising from the characters." The pitfall in all other methods is plot holes. I've rarely read a book that is consistenly logical if it is not planned story first. Just google "plot holes" to find endless lists detailing the awkward illogicalities in most high concept movies.
    – user5645
    Jul 16, 2014 at 10:06

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