A lot of stories start with an idea—but usually, there’s not enough there to begin writing a story. 

Today we’re going from idea to concept. Here are a few examples of ideas that eventually became stories in our modern culture:

  • Two powerful wizards who battle it out for control of both the magic and muggle worlds
  • A group of friends in their 20s-30s living in New York City
  • Two male vampires fall in love with the same human girl

All of these ideas are extremely popular stories in today’s culture, and two of them have spawned multiple franchises. What does this mean? Is there value in an idea alone if it can spawn multiple huge franchises, none of which are infringing on another’s copyright?

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The Three Critical Ingredients To Include in Your Concept

A concept isn’t specific and usually doesn’t “name names” or provide detail on the characters, the setting, or anything else. It may hint at those things, and it will certainly hint at conflict. But for the most part, it’s a marketing piece that sums up the most basic design of the story.

In scriptwriting, it might be called a log line or a pitch. At a writer’s conference, it might be the sentence you say when someone asks you what your book is about.

It is different from an idea because it’s much more detailed, usually highlighting a few different elements:

  • The protagonist
  • The opposition (not necessarily the antagonist, but an opposing force)
  • The “situation” (which is usually some sort of setting that forces the protagonist to meet his or her opposing force)
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How To Turn an Idea Into a Concept

We don’t need to think much about an idea or even define it fully; we just need to recognize that it is not a concept. If we can do that, then we can take an idea and hone it into more!

Moving beyond an idea, the concept is the hook of your story. It can usually be phrased as a “What if?” question, and it often points to a theme and/or conflict for the story. For example:

(What if) An 11-year old child learns that he is a famous and celebrated hero in an underground magical world he never knew existed until now (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone)

(What if) 24 impoverished teenagers battle to be the lone survivor of the yearly Hunger Games, ensuring their status and wealth for the rest of their lives. (The Hunger Games)

(What if) A teenage girl falls in love with a vampire who wants to kill her anytime he catches a whiff of her blood. (Twilight)

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