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:

7 Ways To Build Community Into Your Writing Life

If you’re reading this, it’s because you’ve been called to write. You’ve got a fire inside you that burns fiercer with every word you put on the page.

But being a writer is a love-hate relationship.

You love it because you’re a writer, and you’re putting words and stories out into the world. But you hate it because you’re always by yourself.

There are so many other artistic callings in the world that bring people together—music, performance, art shows, etc—but when it comes to writing, it’s kind of an every-woman-for-herself deal.

Writing is a lonesome calling.

And the writing life isn’t for the weak. It’s for those who are willing to do whatever it takes to write.

Even if that means spending a hell of a lot of time all alone.

Building Community Around Your Writing

Just because you’re a writer, that doesn’t mean you always have to be by yourself.

Sure, you’ll have to be by yourself sometimes. Because writing requires you to be able to “shut the door” to distractions and take those images, thoughts, characters, worlds, and emotions out of your head (and heart) and put them into words.

And that’s gonna take some alone time to make happen.

But you don’t always have to go at it all alone. You can start to bring community into your writing life.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Join a local writing critique group–writing groups are a great way to get community into your writing life on a regular basis. Most groups meet once or twice a month so you’ll still have the alone time available to do the work, and then also have opportunities to connect with other writers.
  • Join (or create) an online writing group–if you’ve got a bunch of writer-friends, you’ve got yourself an online writing group. Check out writing groups on Facebook, Google Plus and other social media sites. Or create a Facebook group or Google Hangout of your own to connect with your friends and support each others writing lives.
  • Write with a friend–I’m a huge fan of “write ins” where you meet up with other writers at a specific time and place, and then you all write together. I do this a lot with one of my entrepreneur friends who lives locally, and we get so much done, while also keeping each other company.
  • Have a “check in” buddy–if you don’t want to write with other people, you can have a “check in” buddy instead, which is a person who keeps tabs on your writing progress and vice versa. I have a check in buddy (she’s another writing coach) that I email every Monday, and it helps me to stay focused and know that I’m being held accountable for doing what I said I was going to do.
  • Swap pages/chapters–want feedback on your writing? Find other writers who also want feedback and swap pages/chapters with each other. Do this on a regular basis to keep your writing sharp and to have community in your writing life.
  • Attend writing workshops/classes–writing workshops are a great place to meet other writers who could become your new writing buddies.
  • Start (or join) a writers “Meet Up” group–the site,, is a great place to start a writer’s group in your local area. You just set up an event and then Meet Up will share it with people who fit the description of the audience you’re looking to attract.

Having community in your writing life will also help you to stick with it and keep on going when things get tough. When you’re all alone, it’s easy to quit. But when you’ve got a community supporting you, it’s a lot harder to throw in the towel (and if you’ve chosen the right community they won’t let you!).

Think Community, Not Competition

So many times writers compare themselves to other writers or worry that they’ll never be the Stephen King of their genre. All that does is instill fear, limitations and negativity. And no writer needs that.

For example, my writing coach friend and I could have easily seen each other as competition and steered clear. But instead, we embraced the fact that we’re both writing coaches with totally different audiences and missions, and that we can be stronger when we work together.

Same goes for having community in your writing life. It’s fine if you want to go at it all alone, but why would you want that? Isn’t it so much better when you get to do things–especially really tough things–with other people there to help cushion the blows and make the great times even greater?

When you build community into your writing life, you’ll enjoy the fact that you’re a writer so much more.

The Write Better Stories Community

I started the Write Better Stories community this year because I wanted to create community of emerging novelists who are serious about writing stories they can publish.

Being a writer is one of the best feelings in the entire world–and when you can write a story that hits home for someone, that changes someone’s life, it’s even better.

Write Better Stories is a free community on Facebook. If you’re serious about wanting to write badass stories, join us.

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How do you build community into your writing life?

Image Courtesy of Julie Jordan Scott