Powerful Premise by William Bernhardt


Most novelists know what they want to write about. Many of us have stories burning inside, just waiting for us to tell them. But Bernhardt urges writers to stop and think before touching the keyboard. Is this premise all it can be? Does it have high stakes, inherent conflict, and emotional appeal? If not, it’s far better to rethink the novel at the planning stages than get bogged down in fruitless revisions later.

POWERFUL PREMISE is short and to the point. Bernhardt advises us to write larger than life characters with high stakes problems in an interesting setting. He goes on to discuss originality, emotional appeal, and believability. Each chapter contains examples (mostly from classic books or movies) and ends with writing exercises.

However, Bernhardt can’t stop talking about his own books. Every few pages, he mentions either his fiction or his other how-to books. He drops them in so often that POWERFUL PREMISE felt less like a how-to and more like a sales pitch. I kept waiting for the introductory material to be over so I could get to the meat of the book. Then I realized that there wasn’t much meat to be had. Bernhardt isn’t giving new information or presenting it in an original way.

There is nothing wrong with “punching up” a premise. It’s something all writers should learn to do. Even writers of quiet literary fiction need to find what’s gripping about their story and bring it to the forefront. POWERFUL PREMISE can help with this, if you can ignore the constant salesmanship, and just focus on the examples and exercises.


POWERFUL PREMISE can be found here.


Rating: 3 stars



This book is best for: intermediate writers


I recommend this book or Save the Cat by Blake Snyder or Story Stakes by H.R. D’Costa.

One thought on “Powerful Premise by William Bernhardt

  1. Interesting. Yes, larger than life but still true to life. It’s like acting – you have to speak larger than life in order to make it seem real.

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