I've read this book before, but going through it again for advice and pointers. What I find most interesting is that the author James Frey suggests that every good novel must have a premise. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest that you DO not have a good novel WITHOUT a premise. A premise has also been called theme.
An example he mentions is the premise “love leads to loneliness”. The plot of the story is of a man who lives happily alone in a lighthouse for many years. He's rather content in his solitude, until on a trip to the mainland he falls madly in love. He returns to the lighthouse with his new bride, who at first falls in love with the charm of the lighthouse. After a few months, though, and a difficult winter, the bride wants to move to a warmer climate. Because he loves his bride, he agrees to move to Arizona. Eventually he cannot cope with the heat, and begs his wife to return with him to the lighthouse. Reluctantly she agrees to move back. However, this time his wife leaves him with a note, "Do not try to find me." The man knows that he won't - he's alone again, but this time it's a crushing loneliness. Thus, love leads to loneliness. I don't know what genre this story would fit, but certainly not romance!
I’m glad that Mr. Frey does mention that there is disagreement in the writing community on the issue of the importance of premise. Many writers operate on instinct, and that instinct works well for them. I would love to hear from other writers on the issue of premise. Do you always start out with a premise?
Thinking this over, though, I do believe that the premise of every satisfying romance novel is: Eventually, true love conquers all. Is there anything better?