I’ve begun another series, based on a book by Larry Brooks called Story Engineering. My last post began the discussion of Concept, the first of the six core competencies outlined in the book. Mr. Brooks has an entire chapter devoted to the criteria of concept. Let me hit the highlights:
1. “Is the concept fresh and original?”
If it’s not, you’re in trouble. But if you’re stuck in a stale, unoriginal concept, there are ways to spruce it up enough to work. Go deeper into the motivations of the main character, make the bad guy more dangerous, add more mystery to the mundane. The more specificity you add to the concept, the richer it will be.
(That’s a fresh and original picture. Colorful, too.)
2. “If it’s not particularly fresh and original, does your concept at least present an opportunity to impart a new spin on a familiar theme or premise?”
There must be something within your concept that adds unpredictability. Mystery is always fun, because readers are curious. Or you could add something the reader can relate to.
3. “Is your concept compelling?”
Give your hero an intriguing problem to conquer in a properly motivated situation.
4. “Does the concept set the stage for an unfolding dramatic story?”
There must be conflict. There must be an equal and opposing force for your hero to conquer, or the story will be bland and uninteresting. And quite possibly unfinished.
5. “Does the concept lend itself to the other three essential elements of storytelling?”
The author words this part so well, I’ll just copy it straight from the book: “If the concept doesn’t naturally align with a journey for great characters and deliver a thematic punch along the way, one that makes people resonate with their own humanity, it isn’t a good concept after all.” Link your concept to character and theme.
6. “Can the concept be expressed as a succinct “what if?” question?”
“A good question demands an answer. And the answer is your story.” A what if question will lead to another question, and another, until you get to the end. By beginning with the what if question, your greatly increase the odds that you’ll have a compelling story that you can actually finish.
By ensuring you have these six criteria covered, you’re on your way to a strong plot that will carry you through an entire book without bogging down in the middle. That’s it for concept. In my next couple of posts I’ll discuss Character.