Story Concept—What is it and Why is it Important?

Note: When I read back over my last post, I realized that it may have been a little misleading.  When I said “Every month I plan to write a Progress Update…” I did not intend that to mean I was planning to post only once a month.  My goal is to post every Friday morning on various writing topics, and once a month, that weekly post will be a Progress Update.

A few months back, I read a book called Story Fix: Transform your Novel from Broken to Brilliant by Larry Brooks.  In the fourth chapter, he discusses the idea of story concept.  I found it extremely interesting, and it greatly influenced how I planned my third book.

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Concept?  Why is that worthy of discussion?  Isn’t that just the idea behind the story?

And yes, it is.  But in a larger sense, it’s the ground on which a writer stands or falls.  For it’s the concept, as well as the premise, that you pitch to prospective agents and readers.

Before I define concept, let me define what concept is not.  It is not plot, emotion, or even characters.  Concept is your story in its “abstract idea” form, before plot, emotion, and characters.  For example, the concept of The Hunger Games: Boys and girls are reaped and forced to kill each other in an arena.  It’s simple, it doesn’t include any details—including specific characters—and it’s conceptual by definition.

Now, why did this influence my writing so much?  Because Brooks encouraged me, his reader, to define my own concept.  It sounds easy, but most of the time, it isn’t.  It forced me to strip away my characters and plot and look at what was left.  Analyze it.  Weigh it on an unforgiving scale.  Was my concept good enough to stand on its own?  Was it still compelling by itself?

I had the good fortune to read this book during the very beginning of the planning phase for my third book.  And honestly, stripping away the meat from the many plot ideas swirling through my head changed the direction of the entire book.  I realized that my initial concept was weak without the details to support it, and so I changed it.

It’s amazing how overlooked and yet how crucial defining story concept is.  According to Larry Brooks, “A great concept is your best defense against rejection.”  And his concluding advice, “Take your concept to a higher level, and your story is already a step ahead of the many others in the agent’s in-box.  You now have a live wire to power the story that follows.”

So I encourage you all to spend a few minutes defining your story concept.  Even if you’ve already written your story, this is a worthwhile exercise that could potentially save you from future rejection.  To define it, “Focus on the core idea, cull its conceptual essence, and state it in context to the story arena, proposition, landscape, or framework you are putting into play as the basis for your premise.”  This is a little bit confusing.  What Brooks is saying is to determine the core idea of the story in its most basic form, and then state it alongside what you base your premise on, be it a setting, a question, or a structure.

These are only the very basics of story concept.  If you are still struggling to define your concept or just want more information, check out Larry Brook’s book at http://www.amazon.com/Story-Fix-Transform-Broken-Brilliant/dp/1599639114.

I’d love to hear your own experience with story concept and whether the exercise of defining it has influenced your writing.  Let me know in the comments!

Happy Writing!

-Courtney

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