Case Study: This is What SUCCESS Looks Like

I’m delighted to share a WIN this time.   A middle-grade Young Adult novel in the making.

Can we learn from a case study that models a solid grasp of concept, premise and the First Plot Point?  That sets up a story with the inherent dramatic tension and drama, conceptual appeal and heroic arc that will result in a manuscript that has a genuine shot out there?

Of course we can.  The more you know about these principles, the quicker you’ll recognize them at work in this writer’s responses to my Kick-Start Concept/Premise Analysis process.

What to Notice

Notice how he nails the concept, that it isn’t yet a premise, which is exactly how it should be.  It defines a compelling notion, a proposition, an arena, that offers up a rich story landscape.  Any number of stories could be written from this concept – the hallmark of a great concept, by the way — without actually going there… yet.

First things first, we should establish why readers will want to jump into this story world.  Concept is where that happens. Young readers will be drawn to this idea, even before a protagonist and a dramatic arc enter the picture.

This is the type of pitch that sells the story, even before telling the story.

Then, when he spins it again with a “what if?” context added, look what happens to it then: it begins to grow into a dramatic proposition, unlocking the potential for drama, yet remains focused on the conceptual energy that will drive it.

Then, check out his premise.  It’s solid.  Bullet proof.  This opinion from a guy (me) with plenty of bullets at the ready.

Notice how clean and simple, even how short, these answers are.  And yet, the story itself isn’t simplistic.  This what happens when a writer really understands what the CORE STORY is, and why it will work.  If you need paragraphs to simply deliver a snapshot of the story world and its hero’s quest, you’re not ready to write it.

Notice how perfectly positioned the story is for its identified reader demographic.  Just the right level of fantasy, just the right nuance of theme and adventure.

Check it out here: Model Concept and Premise Document.

Many thanks to this writer for allowing me to share his work.  It’s inspiring, I hope you agree.

And, as we work on our own stories at the Big Picture level — precisely where we should start, by the way — it becomes a model of what success looks like.  I say… bravo.

It’s no accident, either, that this author is an established pro in the field of middle grade/YA television programming, and at the big league level (if you have kids, then his shows have been in your home).  I’ll let him introduce himself here, in the comment thread, if he chooses…  but it illustrates a point: knowledge begets success, because knowledge is required.


Would you like your story concept, premise and major dramatic spine evaluated, using this same Questionnaire?  Click HERE to learn how.  I guarantee you, it’s the best $95 investment in your story, in the three to 24 months it will take you to tell it, that you’ll find anywhere in the industry.

Because if it doesn’t work here, there is no chance it’ll work when spread out over 400 pages of your draft.  That, too, is a guarantee.





Filed under Case studies

11 Responses to Case Study: This is What SUCCESS Looks Like

  1. MikeR

    “Sacred Geometry” is one of those “very pregnant combinations of phrases” … there actually -is- a term for it, but I don’t recall it right now … that can really drive a story, especially in this space. (And it’s one of the reasons why I still enjoy reading stories in this genre, even as an old-phart.) “Sacred.” “Geometry.”

    Now, what I really want to know more about … is the antagonist. What drives HIM? Okay, what I’m saying is that I would like to see more motivation than just “he wants to destroy the world.” Hell, it seems that “the world” is always getting a bum deal: those who don’t want to own it, want to destroy it, and somehow nothing less than the entire world will ever do. Well, maybe something else could, and maybe something else should.

    The richness and texture of this story is what’s going to either sell it or sink it. Strong allusions to “art” – color, texture, visceral things – and to “sacred” – holy things, unholy things – and to “geometry” – the abstract pure world of mind, where there are no senses at all. Those are the three principles that this story is invoking and evoking. It could be masterful … or, it could be trite.

  2. Hi, Larry. Thanks a million for this post. I’ve learned more about concept and premise from this brief article–and the associated attachment–than I’ve learned from a slew of books about writing over the past couple of years. This is genius indeed!

  3. I mean no insult to anyone and by no means do I have my ducks in a row as an author but this seems really prosaic and even formulaic.

    I’m sure it will be an awesome story.

    I am just blown away by two things: (1) it isn’t much more than a kid finds he has a magical guardian angel slash superpower, learns how to use it and goes on a quest to find 3 things where he faces world-threatening conflict from a bad guy; and (2) this is a bulletproof story proposal in Larry’s eyes.

    Again, I mean no offense to the author or even to Larry. It’s just that this is a simple idea.

    Maybe it strikes me that way because it’s YA or maybe I am missing something and this is a big learning opportunity for me. The latter is very possible.

    Thanks to both Larry and the author for sharing this. It is a valuable learning experience.

  4. Trudy

    I think it’s a fabulous idea, with a magical illusion of simplicity. This is where I see writers getting bogged down – they get their concepts and premise twisted up in misplaced complexity. Every story is simple yet the execution is complex and challenging. There are many opportunities to layer complexities for every decision each character makes.

    Why is the rogue artist set on the destruction of their world? How will Giacomo’s character mature through the story? Can he survive without compromising his integrity, resist temptation to submit to the rogue’s overwhelming strength. Even the quest to find the hidden objects – what is the reason for the quest and who is asking people to sacrifice themselves to find them – and what is their motivation (in real life one might ask, why do I need to do this homework, who came up with the concept of integrated math, anyway? And how will I ever use this information ever again in my life????)

    I can see how Giacomo’s journey would parallel any middle school reader who, while navigating life in junior high, might be faced with the minefield of challenges of leadership and followership. Even the concept of surviving an interim failure but picking oneself up and not quitting could be incorporated in this tale. The path of integrity and being true to yourself and how one person’s actions can make a difference in THEIR world are wonderful themes that could emanate from this story.

    I agree with Larry – all the earmarks of a home run in the making! Go for it!
    p.s. Geometry was my favorite subject in school. And also the hardest! But I had the best math teacher in the world so I mastered it. It probably caused me to become fascinated with the Knights Templars and masonic symbolism and mysteries – unfortunately, women seemed to have been denied access to the mysteries of sacred geometry…

  5. Cheryl

    This is a very interesting premise for a novel and I wish this writer / author the best of luck. My question, Larry, is that I write romance. While a romance can have plenty of action — e.g., romantic suspense, thrillers, etc., a contemporary romance is focused on the relationship. A romance does not have a blockbuster premise like “The DaVinci Code” or Harry Potter. Well, “Outlander” has a time-travel element and has lots of action, but many romance novels are about ordinary people who face a particular problem. Women predominantly buy books and purchase lots of romance novels. Do you have a ‘win’ that entails a romance-centered plot? I know that romance can be viewed as publishing’s unwanted stepchild, and often it’s vilified or not taken as seriously… yet romance leads all other genres in sales, (if I’m not mistaken). If you have a Storyfix example of a great romance (following your questionnaire format), I would love to see it.

    BTW, I’ve told four other writers about your “Story Engineering” book and they’ve purchased your book(s).


  6. Terri P

    Hi Larry,
    I’m so glad that you gave us this example. I also agree that he has an excellent and promising premise. So bravo to the author!

    As someone who has enlisted your help and also landed in your top 10%, I’d like to mention how I believe this author approached the questionnaire. Revealing the “core story” means stripping away all the extraneous so that you can see clearly the story’s bones. As writers, we not only get seduced by an idea but we can get enthralled with the backstory, minor characters, major characters or setting. Not that you don’t need them. You just don’t need them now. Since this author has written some version of this story in the past and it didn’t work. I suspect he has more than enough on his antagonist. When I completed my questionnaire, I only had a brief sketch and knowledge that the antagonist was related to the mentor/love interest of my story. Either way, the stripped down approach still works.

    What happens (at least for me) is that the details (inner GMC, antagonist’s arc, even foreshadowing scenes) develop while writing the synopsis or filling in the beat sheet.

    As for the plot being simple? In my opinion, there are no new plots. We recycle the old, put our particular stamp on it and send it out there. The author can add twists and dimension in the world building or character development areas to make it even more compelling. He has the bones in his concept and premise and if he writes to his theme and can pull it off? Oh, yeah. He can hit it over the fence.

    And Cheryl, good for you on passing on the word. I’ve enlightened two of my writing friends and we study Story Engineering and Story Physics together while brainstorming plot. 🙂


  7. MikeR

    Agree. The assessment is, “the frame looks good and strong.” There are a thousand details yet to dream-up which will make the final story-experience. All of that is yet to come.

  8. AdrianH

    Simply stating the concept can be very compelling. I think I have understood the difference between Concept and Premise and will get Larry’s view on mine in the not too far distant future. I was visiting relatives over the weekend and got talking about my book and how I am about half way through it. The inevitable question “what is it about?”. I just told them my one sentence concept which could apply to many genres and the instant response was – don’t tell me any more, don’t spoil it for when I read it. I could have told them premise and theme too. I had them with the concept alone. Execution is another game…

  9. Bill Cory

    Geometry. The word takes me back to Nov. 22, 1963, sitting in high school geometry class, hearing the bad news announced.

  10. Jason Waskiewicz

    While we can learn a lot from “what not to do”, it is also valuable to hold up some works as exemplars. I try to do this in my teaching (science and math, not writing).

    An exemplar isn’t just good. An exemplar has explanations and notations to show why it’s good, and may even point out some of its faults. When I teach my students how to solve a type of problem, an exemplar is great because it shows what makes a particular solution good. So, I recognize good teaching in this exemplar.

    The examples of what not to do are helpful as well, but sometimes we look at these examples and honestly realize, “I would never do that anyway.” The examples of the good show us how it really works.

    I think my only concern would be that if I paid $95 for an analysis and was simply told “good job”, I might feel cheated. I realize that you probably didn’t show us everything, but I know that any work has room for improvement. In my own teaching profession, I always try to make some kind of criticism, even on work that earns a perfect score on my rubric. When my principal evaluates me and gives me perfect marks, it’s disappointing. When he finds something, even it’s minor, or even a, “You did this really well, but it would be even better if you…” I find that more helpful. Of course, telling us what we do well is important as well.

    So, I’m really glad this example was included. I was getting bored of this series, but you have not gotten me interested again. This one was great!

  11. PsiB

    What stood out to me? Within the concept, the notion that “Genius” allows for the principles of geometry to be manipulated in the physical world. What a great way to excite students about math in general while also leveraging “vicarious experience”, i.e., allowing the reader to experience this magical mathematical-shaping world. INCEPTION showed how exciting such manipulation can be in the broadest sense, even if only through dreams/subconscious. A BEAUTIFUL MIND touches on mathematics more directly in a visually compelling way (in one scene anyway):  Here John Nash, the brilliant mathematician, sees geometric lines and symbols through the suns reflection on a stained glass window, through the refraction of his glass, through a bar, then inflates the patterns through the air and into the patterns of a colleague’s tie. Yes, this concept extended into a magical world is something that can take readers/viewers away. I also like the time period in history chosen for the story.

    The rest is more straight forward and harder for this reader to tell how compelling it has the potential to be without reading additional details that will be added during the development/execution stages. But it’s a solid framework of an outcast kid (i.e., orphanage) who finds he has special powers (Genius), develops said powers with the help of a mentor (blind artist) and uses them to save the world against a villain (rogue artist) who is bent on both stopping the kid and destroying the world. A good number of bestselling novels and movies have carved a similar path and for good reason. This can be both a strength and an added challenge: a strength in that we already know the foundation works but a challenge in that much will have to be brought to the table to make it stand out even more. My opinion of this proposal at this stage: the basic framework  — A; the unique details from the big picture perspective that make it stand out — B.