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:

Is Your Story Idea A “Hell Yes?”

A question I hear a lot from emerging novelists is: how do I know which story to choose?

They’ll say, “I have so many ideas, I don’t know which one to write first or which one is the best choice.” And I get it; that’s a question I ask myself often–because I have story ideas coming out my ears.

My response to this is pointing to the obvious: Larry Brooks’ 6 Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling.

But then I like to go a step further.

Because it’s not just about does this story meet that criteria? (Although that is a HUGE part of it)

It’s also about, does the idea light you up? Does it sing in your ears? Did you try running from it and it just keeps catching you? 

What it comes down to is: does the story feel like a “HELL YES?” 

If you didn’t write this story, would you care? Imagine yourself at 100 years old looking back on your life and then ask yourself: am I feeling complete or remorseful?

You Know If You Need to Write A Story

You can feel it, deep down inside you. It’s a part of your being. It’s a part of your soul.

When you feel THAT way about a story idea, that’s when you know it’s the one. Not the one as in the only one, but the one you need to be developing and writing right now.

That’s the right choice for your new (or next) writing project.

And once you choose the idea, that’s when you move into the story development stage (which, for me, is using my “idea seed” as the jumping off point to find my actual story).

In that stage you actually take that idea–the one you can’t get away from–and you pull it apart. You play out scenarios. You ask a shitload of questions. Find the potential plot holes. Discover who your Protagonist is, what he wants and what he’s struggling with. Create an Antagonist with an opposing goal backed by motivation. Dig into your Concept and Premise, making sure both are solid before you even think about moving to the planning stage (where you actually figure out your structure and specific scene list).

Doing all of that will turn it into an actual story, one that a reader will freaking love.

One Final Thing

One more thing to think about is: what’s your intention for the story? Meaning, do you want to publish and sell it? Or are you just writing it for you?

If getting it into the hands of a reader is your end game, you also have to factor the reader into your “what story idea do I choose?” response.

Now this doesn’t mean make what the reader wants the main factor. Not at all.

The HELL YES is the main factor. 

Because you’ve gotta love the idea enough to spend 9-12 months (or more) on it. And it’s not easy to love things for that amount of time without hiccups or wanting to quit.

So definitely consider your reader (otherwise you might write a really good story that no one wants to read), but keep in mind the Hell Yes factor.

Here’s what I do… I take a look at all of the story ideas I’m considering and then I ask myself: which ones would a chick lit reader want to read? And then out of the ideas that float to the top, I ask myself: which one of them is a HELL YES for me? 

That’s the one I choose as my next story.

Now I may do the development, planning and write the draft, and then decide I’m not a Hell Yes anymore. Usually that means I’ve been working on the story too long and I need a break (that’s why I take 6 weeks off from my first drafts).

I know the break is over when I feel the HELL YES coming back.

That’s also why I launched my new group the Bestselling Author Mastermind. Because when the idea came to me, it was a major HELL YES, why-didn’t-I-think-of-this-before kind of feeling.

So I knew that meant I had to launch it. I had to get it out into the world.

Because I want to be the writer and author I dream of being… and I want you to be the writer and author YOU dream of being.

That’s my end game. The writing dream life. For both of us.

No matter what it takes.

If you’re committed to having your writing dream life (whatever that looks like for you), you’ll want to get in on this mastermind. We’re gonna be kicking ass and taking names on a daily basis.

>> Learn more about the Bestselling Author Mastermind