When ideas aren’t enough

Writing stories is akin to architecture— its built on a solid foundation.

The foundation for a good story doesn’t start with the materials you might expect. It doesn’t start with paragraphs, sentences, words or even ideas, but a solid concept.

Concept is different from an idea. An idea is the seed for a concept; it has a general shape but no real defining details. For example, my idea for this post was “I want to write a post about refining ideas into workable stories.”

It’s clear there isn’t enough here to hang a story on, yet this is where most people start writing.

Nailing down the concept for a story shortens the writing process. Writing an entire story for the sole purpose of fleshing out an idea is inefficient. It may take 500 maybe 1000 empty words before realizing that the point of a story lay in the middle. Fixing that will require heavy editing or possibly a rewrite.

Why use multiple drafts when you can do some thinking ahead of time and save yourself some trouble?

Concept is the “big idea stuff.” Getting your story straight on this level makes execution much easier because it helps you answer the question “what’s next?” Knowing the answer to that question allows you to focus on writing the story.

Concepts have some agency— a forward thinking element that dictates what to write next. To put it simply, the concept asks a question that your story must answer.

The type of question you ask is dependent upon genre. Fiction operates on the premise of “What if?” while most non fiction deals more with questions of how or why. The question I asked for this post was “How does nailing down the concept make writing your story easier?”

Once you have a concept, it’s easy to develop it into a working premise for a story. Premise is the answer posed to the core question at the heart of your story. In other words, When somebody asks what your story is about, you are giving them the premise.

The premise for this post was “Being clear about concept sharpens the focus of your idea enough to show a clear path toward the end.”

Premise is sturdy enough to hang a story on. It provides a framework and paves the way for more focused writing and research. Making the leap from idea to concept and eventually a premise requires some thinking.

Here are a few tips for getting through this critical step:

• Be clear about the question: Remember that the basis of a concept is the question you are trying to answer. Determine what type of question you are asking first then expand from there.

• Make sure the concept fits length:
As a general rule, complex questions require complex answers and thus more words. Be sure you have the appropriate space to write the story that needs to be written.

•  Working with multiple concepts  A story can have more than one concept in it, but there needs to be a common thread tying them all together. In those types of stories, the core question you want to answer usually spawn related ones that can be addressed to add depth

• Premise as a starting point To save yourself time and trouble, don’t start until you can articulate the premise of your story clearly. If you can’t answer a simple question like “What is your story about?” Then go back to the drawing board until you do.

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