In his fabulous book, Story Engineering, Larry Brooks talks about the critical difference between an idea and a concept in a story. If I may paraphrase, an idea is the spark of inspiration that comes from inside the writer’s head. For example:
I want to write about cars.
That’s an idea, but it’s not enough. It’s not compelling. A lot of people write about cars; even fictional cars. As a newcomer to the writing world, a novel about cars isn’t enough to interest an agent, publisher, or even a wide reader audience.
A good concept, on the other hand, sets the stage for a fresh and original story. This is even more important for genre stories like science fiction, fantasy, and horror. The concept asks one or more compelling questions about the idea that must be answered, and suggests a dramatic story. For example:
· What would happen if cars were sentient creatures?
o What would they say?
o What would they desire more than anything?
o What would they be afraid of?
o What would their friends and enemies be like?
o Can a car be a hero? What would he/she do?
o What if a sentient car wanted to rescue his mechanic from the evil Flotsonian slavers who have abducted her and forced her to work on the fuel induction system for the space station Flimmenhoff in a galaxy not so far away?
Brooks suggests that novice writers often start writing too soon after that initial spark of inspiration, and that if a writer cannot come up with a succinct ‘what if’ question about her initial idea, then perhaps the story isn’t yet ready to write. It may be too broad in spectrum, too vague, or not original and fresh enough to hold the writer’s interest long enough to write it. I like that.
What’s your compelling question?
What’s your concept?