How Do You Know When You Have A Good Story Concept? An Unlimited Number Of Plots Can Play Out On It

Since moving to Austin, I’ve finally picked up a Roku, which is a device for streaming on your TV (I used to use my Nintendo Wii for streaming–ancient, I know!!). And some of the programming on Netflix is different, depending on which device you’re using.

The other day I was scrolling through when I came across a movie I hadn’t seen on there previously. It was called “The Matchbreaker.”

Intrigued by the title, I clicked on the image to see a description of the movie. And this was essentially the plot: a guy gets paid by a disapproving mother to break up her daughter’s relationship, and this one-time gig turns into a career, which then becomes a problem when he falls in love with one of his clients.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve been following me for a while now, you likely remember a screenplay I’ve been talking about that I’m working on right now. It’s called The Breakup Coach.

In my story, the Protagonist is a female who’s been dumped so many times that she decides to become a breakup coach and help other people break up with their significant others, and she’s doing just fine until a client she doesn’t want to take on blackmails her into helping him.

Similar idea… but two totally different stories. How can this be? How can the exact same idea become two (or more) totally different stories?

For one very simple reason: Concept.

Concept is the landscape of your story. In the case of these two stories, The Matchbreaker, and The Breakup Coach, the Concept is the same: a person whose job it is to help people break up with their significant others.

Yet the plots are totally different.

And that is how you know you’ve got a good Concept. Not only is it compelling and conflicted in and of itself, but an unlimited number of plots could be created from it.

The Matchbreaker (or the Breakup Coach) could even be a TV series. The Concept would be the same–a person whose job it is to break up other people’s relationships. And then the plot would change in each episode.

Just like any other TV show.

Same Concept. Different plot (aka: Premise).

Concept is one of the most powerful pieces of storytelling craft. It may even be the most powerful. Because Concept creates the landscape for your story.

But it doesn’t give you a plot.

A landscape is like a stage for the story to unfold on. In this case, the Concept is a character: a person whose job it is to break up other people’s relationships.

That is the stage the plot will unfold on. But it’s NOT a plot on its own.

This is a seriously important distinction to understand. If you don’t get this distinction, you will be headed toward “episodic narrative land.” And that is the worst thing you can ever do for your story.

And a Concept like this, without a plot, lends itself very nicely to an episodic narrative. You could sit down and just write 50,000 words about a person whose job it is to break up relationships. And what you’d end up with is 50,000 words that show us the day-to-day life of a breakup coach.

Interesting to some, maybe. But not powerful enough to be an actual story.

Because something’s missing.

Something MAJOR.

And that’s a Premise, a plot. A purpose for the story. Opposition that’s going to get in the way and make things harder for that break up coach to achieve his/her story goal.

Without that, you don’t really have a story.

The Matchbreaker is now on my Netflix list of movies to watch. I’m insanely interested in how this version of my Concept plays out.

The other reason why it’s important to fully understand Concept (and Premise, and all the other pieces of story craft) is because otherwise you’ll think you need to have a super original and unique idea to be able to write a good story.

But you really don’t.

All you need is a Concept that’s worth writing about. A Concept that, even if it’s been done before, hasn’t been done by you.

You being you is what brings the unique twist to things. Because you’ll take the Concept of “a person whose job it is to break up people’s relationships” and create your own version of the plot.

And if that same Concept was given to 10 other writers, what you’d get are 10 totally different stories. All built on the same Concept.

Now, not every Concept warrants doing over and over again with multiple plots. Some Concepts are good just for that one story.

But what makes a really killer Concept is that it has potential to be multiple plots. That’s when you know you’ve stumbled upon something awesome.

So even though the Matchbreaker is a movie on Netflix, that’s not gonna to stop me from writing my version of the Breakup Coach. Because that story hasn’t been done before.

Yeah, the Concept has, but it’s a good Concept, one that warrants multiple stories.

Same goes for stories like Superman or Spiderman or James Bond or any other Concepts out there that have been used over and over again with many different plots.

The Concept is the same for each story, what changes is the plot.

And, really, that’s why they’re able to do so many versions of the story. Because Concept lends itself to that.

Without Concept, a story falls flat. It becomes average and everyday. Which is not what bestsellers or box office smashes are made of.

Concept provides the stage for your plot to unfold and your characters to come to life.

Want to know if you’ve got a killer Concept for your story? Ask yourself the following questions:

> Does this Concept provide inherent tension and conflict to the story, before the plot is introduced?
> Is this Concept compelling on its own? Would someone hear this Concept and want to read/watch the story, before you’ve told them what it’s actually about?
> Can you use this Concept to create an unlimited number of plots?

If you can truly answer YES to all three of those questions, then congratulations–you probably have a killer Concept, one that’s worth writing into a story (or several).

But if you didn’t answer YES to all three questions, then you may want to keep digging and developing until you have a Concept where you can answer YES to all three.

Coming up with a killer, compelling, I’ve-got-to-read-that-right-now Concept isn’t always easy (although once you fully understand craft, it can be). But it’s always worth the extra time and attention spent making it so.

Otherwise you may end up with an episodic narrative. And that’s not really a story.

Or, at least, it’s not a story that will get you published, land you on the NY Times Best Seller list or get turned into a movie (and I know that’s what you REALLY dream of and want to happen, right??!!).

Spend the extra time working on your Concept. Play around with as many ideas as you can until you’ve landed on one that makes you scream HELL YES!!!

Your story is worth it.

Dream life or bust,

 

 

 

#DreamLifeOrBust #DailyThinkDifferent

P.S. Ready to come up with a killer Concept for your story?? I have a FREE video series coming later this week that’s all about how to create opposition in your stories… and then we’re heading into a FREE 5-day challenge where I’m gonna help you develop a killer Concept for YOUR story. NaNoWriMo is almost upon us, which also means it’s almost time for my annual story planning workshop!! LOTS of storytelling awesomeness coming over the next few weeks. Stay tuned… (and if you’re totally impatient like I am and don’t want to wait, you can grab my FREE story training and development workbook, “From ‘Eh’ to ‘Awesome! 9 Questions to Turn Your Idea into An Actual Story,” and get started right away: www.jenniferblanchard.net)

How To Plan Your Story In One Day

The very first National Story Planning Day took place on October 25, 2015. I hosted a free four-part live virtual workshop on Periscope, and created a free workbook to go along with the event.

And during the live event, I walked participants through everything they need to know about their stories before they write them. The bare-minimum stuff.

Anyone who did all of the exercises walked away with a basic story plan. 

If you weren’t able to attend the live event, you can still use the content from the event to plan your own story in a day. All you have to do is download the workbook and watch the video replays (see below).

You can either watch all of the videos and then go through the workbook exercise all at once, or you can watch each video and then work through the corresponding section in the workbook before moving on to the next video. Up to you.

>> Download the story plan workbook

Video 1: Idea, Concept Premise

Video 2: Creating Characters

Video 3: Story Structure

Video 4: Scene Beat Sheet

If you do all of the exercises in the workbook, you will have a basic story plan that you can use to write the first draft of your story.

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How’s your story plan coming?

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Want to see a story plan in action, from idea to story roadmap? Grab a free copy of my eGuide, Find Your Story: the 6-Week Story Planning Process here.

Story Structure 101

In this Periscope replay, I:

  • Give an overview of story structure
  • Explain how all of the plot points work

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What’s your favorite plot point, and why?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call.

How To Create A Really Good Bad Guy

In this Periscope video, I talk about:

  • How to create a strong Antagonist
  • The specific things you’ll want to know about your Antagonist before you write him/her
  • A really good article you can check out to learn more (and I give you a link)

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How do you create the Antagonist in your story?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call.

Character Arc: What It Is, Why Your Story Needs It

In this Periscope I:

  • Define character arc
  • Explain what it is and how it works
  • Give examples of character arc in action

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What story has your favorite character arc?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call

Creating Your Protagonist: Inner Demons

In this Periscope I talk about character inner demons:

  • What they are
  • Why you need them in your story
  • Examples of common inner demons

And my adorable-but-extremely-loud dog makes an appearance in the video 🙂

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What are your favorite inner demons to give your Protagonist and why?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call

The 4 Things You Gotta Know About Your Protagonist

 

In this Periscope, I talk about the 4 things you need to know about your Protagonist, and why, including:

  • Inner demon(s)
  • Goal
  • Backstory
  • Character arc

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What inner demon(s) is your NaNo novel Protagonist battling?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call

Concept and Premise: More Examples

In this Periscope replay, I talk about:

  • Concept and Premise, defined
  • Three specific examples of Concept and Premise

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Out of all the examples in the video, which one resonates the most with you?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call

 

Why All Love Stories Need A Concept (And Premise)

In this Periscope, I talk about:

  • Why all love stories need something Conceptual at the heart
  • Examples of how to amp up your love story with a Concept
  • Examples of love stories that have strong Concepts

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What’s your favorite love story and why? 

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call

Using Concept to Create A Story Premise

In this Periscope, I talk about:

  • What a Concept is
  • What a Premise is
  • How Concept informs Premise

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How do you come up with a Concept for your story?

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Do you want to be a more effective storyteller and cut years off your learning curve, so you can write a kick-ass novel and get it out into the world in the next 12 months? Join me for a free Clarity Call