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Concept is everything

In a world of over-done storylines, concept is everything.

The most important thing a writer (whether you write novels, short stories or screenplays) should know is: what is your choice of premise! In otherwords, what is your unique concept. This is, after all, going to be your calling card. Forget the rest, dialog, action, subplot, bad characterization, it can all be fixed (yes, I know, albeit with a lot of blood, sweat and tears) but a bad concept, without stating the obvious, cannot.

Your first responsibility to yourself, as the writer, is to ask yourself, 'What is my novel about?'

Chose and chose well. Your concept is your hook. A hook you hope to land that New York Agent with. In order to bait your hook, and do it well — again, stating the obvious— you need something alluring, something compelling, something unique or, if you really are that clever, all three.

Once you have that concept in place, the rest is easy…okay, so I tease. Just remember these few rules:

1. Write with a passion.
2. Live and breath with your characters.
3. Don't be frightened to kill your own pet projects, and or characters if you have to. Or,
4. Take your characters to unusual places, physically, pyschologically and or mentally.
5. If you are going to try updating an old concept, make sure it's with a fresh new slant.
6. Push your idea(s) far beyond what you think its limits are, sometimes you find the real story lurking just beyond.
7. And, as usual, don't be frightened to juxtapose genres as in — a SF adventure, a thrilling love story, a murderous romance. (You get the picture.)

And for those of you writing screenplays, remember, sex...I mean, romantic comedies, sell better than anything in Hollywood — at least, that's what Chip tells me.

Okay, back to work!

paulbhartzog's picture

It's all good....

First off, thx for such a provocative post (even if it was unintentional).

Some writers can write incredibly well. When Delany says "she had hair like spun brass," I'm hooked no matter what the concept is (from The Einstein Intersection, btw).

Then there is the concept work. Oh, say, Niven's "Ringworld." Again, I'm hooked no matter how bad the prose is. But not quite. The story does have to be above some minimal threshold of interest. Recently, and all too often, I put down a "concept" work because the story just isn't grabbing me.

Then there is the plot. Now, personally, I believe that there are no (and probably can be no) original plots. "Boy"-meets-"girl", etc.; humankind pretty much knows all the stories there are to tell (and we knew this by about 2500 B.C. I might add). Nevertheless, I will read "boy"-meets-"girl" until the fleebnorks come home because it works. Moreover, it works because it is quintessentially human.

None of these is the "correct" way to write sci-fi, in my opinion, and I read different kinds of stories at different times in my life and for different reasons.

Basically it boils down to preference, which can change with mood.

sim's picture

I respectfully disagree

I've never sold anything I've written. But I've been writing my entire life. Until recently, I've never come out and admitted that I wanted to be a writer (John Cheever's 1st novel was when he was 45, so I figure, hey, why not). And I had heard that what happens to writers, when they tell people that they're writers, is that people perk up and say, "Hey, I've got a great idea for a story," or "I've got a great idea for a movie." And, dude, it is fukken true. And then the line that follows is, "If you'll write it, I'll split half the money with you."

The concept is the LEAST IMPORTANT THING about writing. The concept -- heck, call it the pitch, 'cos that's what it sounds like you're pushing -- is for people who don't want to bothered with reading. Story? Characters? Naah, those people want something that their tiny little anthracite minds can hold: about 1 or 2 sentences that they think are sexy. "Oooh, Romeo and Juliet in high school, but as a MUSICAL." But that's NOT the important part. The important part is all the stuff that you said could be rewritten. If it's written poorly, sure, why not? But if the muse has deigned to drop a couple of great lines and you fill in the blanks, if your characters bloom to life in the imagination, if the dialogue is good enough for people to write down to use for themselves, then you know that's what writing is about.

The pitch is about selling something. In some of the big budget IP, it might be the only thing worthwhile. But the pitch -- the "concept" -- is not the important thing when it comes to writing.

But hey, what do I know, I've never sold anything. So I'll quote from Stephen King's "On Writing": Ideas are cheap... it's the writing that makes it golden.


More or less disagree

Well, I've never sold any fiction, but I might be willing to consent that 'Concept' can help a younger writer get sold, particularly if that concept can be dscribed in a paragraph or so.

But if one aspires to great writing, concept isn't the most important thing by a long shot.

Take William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. There almost isn't any "concept", and certainly not one that can be described very easily. The strength of Gibson's writing is in style and character building. And that 'style' ain't easy to come by: He never tells you, "Joe felt angry"...instead, it's entirely communicated by what the characters are seeing or doing or looking at or even just by the landscape they see. These are not easy things to point to because they really amount to what's been taken out of the story in order to strengthen it. The concept and story line are almost secondary or even tertiary to building these characters that inhabit a believable world. And this is what is so mesmerizing about Gibson's writing.

I can think of plenty of other examples, particularly among the Cyberpunk authors.

On the other hand, I've read some mediocre writers but whose concept was so cool it more than made up for it. Hell, most of PK Dick's books are in this category (he had to churn out a lot of books in order to pay bills).