Editing with Premise and Throughline in mind

Have you ever tried to explain what your book is about to a stranger only to see their eyes glaze over after the first minute or two? You know in your heart that your 80,000 words is full of intrigue, drama and an amazing ending. But how do you get this across to someone you just met if you only have 15 seconds of their attention?

This is where your story’s premise and throughline(s) come in. Before we get any further, let’s be clear with these terms:


The single big picture statement of what your story is about. Keep a premise to a single sentence or two. Some allow up to 100 words, but we find this allows too much fluff to float in and cloud things. Keep this clear and concise. For example, something as simple as: Good vs evil on a fishing expedition gone terribly wrong can be a premise for a story.


Some use the term throughline interchangeably with a premise. They do have similarities, but the throughline should be a bit more specific and describe an important thread of the story that follows through from beginning to end (thus the combination of the words through and line). The thread should relate with the primary goal/desire of your main character. There may be more than one throughline in a story, but we don’t recommend more than a handful. At least not more than two major ones. A throughline for the good vs evil fishing story above could be the protagonists’ love for his wife and children is more important than anything, even his own life.

It should be pretty clear to you how important the premise and throughline is to your story. In essence, THEY ARE YOUR STORY! Without them, there really is not much of interest to write. Just random words on a page about nothing. The sitcom Seinfeld comes to mind here… wasn’t that supposed to be a show about nothing? In reality the premise (at least from our perspective) was a comedian navigating the trials and tribulations of living in a NY apartment with a group of eccentric friends and neighbors.

This is why knowing your story’s premise and throughline is critical. This is what you should be writing about. Every chapter, every character, every scene should in some way, embody the premise and one or more throughlines of your story. Losing your focus on premise and throughline will lose your readers faster than misspelling artichoke. Keep a laser focus on the relevance of your words to the throughline when editing, in addition to your spelling and grammar.

This is not to say you need to continue to shout a throughline over and over throughout your book. Don’t treat your reader like an anvil and your throughline the falling hammer. Far from it. Your throughlines and premise need to weave in and out of your story. Always there, always present, sometimes at the forefront and other times hovering in the background.

AutoCrit can help you edit for throughline and premise.

Add words or phrases which embody a throughline into your list of personal words and phrases. Not sure how to do this in AutoCrit? Click Here.

For the example above the protagonists’ love for his wife and children is more important than anything, even his own life, try adding the phrase “I love you” and run the personal words and phrases report. This will pull out and highlight all the instances of the phrase “I love you” throughout your text. Does your protagonist ever say this? Does he say it 5 times on every page? Use the frequency of your word use to help determine if you are losing focus on your throughline, or hammering it home a little too hard.


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