Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering, describes a concept as something that launches a series or franchise. For example, what’s a show about a group of friends in their 20s-30s living in New York City (the idea)?

If you said Friends, you’re right. But if you said How I Met Your Mother, you’re also right. What about Girls? Seinfeld? Sex and the City? Gossip Girl? Baby Daddy? Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23? Each of these series is the same in idea, but slightly different in concept.

The Difference is the “What If?” Part

What if a woman leaves her fiancé at the altar and seeks solace in her high school best friend, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years? (Friends)

What if a man tells his kids about how he met their mother, but starts the story long before he even meets her to explain why she was perfect for him? (How I Met Your Mother)

What if a girl moves to New York City to be a “Carrie Bradshaw” type of writer, and finds out that it’s nowhere close to the Sex and the City dreams she aspired to? (Girls)

We’ve now gone from the same idea to three unique concepts. Each of these is a “twist” on an old idea.

How Can You Take Your Idea and Turn It Into a Concept?

Almost all concepts are a twist on genre tropes and conventions. This is possible without infringing on copyright because the answer to “what if?” is different each time.

For example, what’s a television show about two male vampires who fall in love with the same human girl?

Go back to the “What if?” question:

What if the two male vampires are close, and one sired the other? What if one ranks higher in that the other in vampire politics, and has ordered the lower-ranked one to start a relationship with the human in order to spy on her? (The Southern Vampire Mysteries and True Blood franchise)

What if the two male vampires were estranged brothers? What if the human girl looked just like the woman who originally tore the brothers apart? What if all three were teenagers living in the same town? (The Vampire Diaries novels and television show)

In fact, if you wanted to broaden this idea, you would find many movies, books, television shows, and more that are basically a supernatural love triangle. Twilight, for example, fits this idea as well, except one of the males is a werewolf.

Keep drilling down on the question “What if?” to get to the root of what makes your story different (but similar) to what’s already out there in your genre.

Practice Turning Ideas to Concepts

Look for ideas that translate to concepts and vice-versa. Again, this is really easy to do in television and movies.

For example, Friends With Benefits and No Strings Attached are basically the same movie that came out a few months apart, and Chasing Liberty and First Daughter are basically the same movie that came out a few months apart, and on and on.

You probably know books in your own genre that are similar to yours, so knowing how to distinguish them in concept will help set your work apart.

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