The Storyfix Saturday Night Special

A story coaching offer, this weekend only (because I have some open slots): get me your $50 Kick-Start Conceptual Review submission by midnight on Sunday (Nov. 3rd), and I’ll deliver a 24-hour RUSH turnaround (normally a $25 upcharge) for no extra cost.

The fine print: I’ll send the questionnaire out to you within a couple of hours of receipt of your payment.  Just opt-in (using the Paypal option in the right column for the $50 fee, or just go direct to Paypal and use as payee; if you’re not a member, let me know and I can invoice you, no Paypal membership required), allowing yourself however long it will take to answer with your best cut at your story’s concept and premise and first plot point, and then get those questionnaire answers back to me by that deadline.

If you don’t make the deadline, I’ll still do my best to turn it quickly for you.

Know this: this is as much a story development tool as a story evaluation tool.  Which means you win just by giving a go.

So… why this, why now?

Because I’ve done four of these in the last four days.  And each of them was either DOA or severely handicapped right out of the gate, which is the description concept and premise.

They are different.  That’s the key.  Writers are pitching premises with nothing conceptual in play.

If you’d like to see where you stand on that one, this is your shot at a quick diagnosis.  The Questionnaire includes links to posts that explain the difference and show the consequences of not getting it.

If you’d like a peek at what this looks like, click HERE for a real evaluation (used by permission).

This, aside from less than professional writing, is the number one cause of rejection slips, in my opinion.  Good writing, fine characters, rejected because there is nothing about the story that elevates it above the crowd.

That’s what concept does… when done right.




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8 Responses to The Storyfix Saturday Night Special

  1. Newguy

    So let me kick this off by seeing if I understand concept vs premise using two movies.

    Concept- What if humans invent machines that become self-aware and decide to exterminate humanity?

    Premise- A killing machine from the future is sent back in time to kill the mother of the future leader of humanities struggle against a world dominated by killing machines. A human soldier follows the killing machine back to try and protect the woman.

    Movie- Terminator

    Concept – What if Aliens hunt humans for sport?

    Premise – A US commander and his crew are sent into the jungles of South America to locate missing military men. When the commander finds out that he has been lied to by one of his crew about the objective of the search, the commander and his crew head back to base. They are thwarted by an ugly smart Alien with laser guns who wants their skulls for his trophy case.

    Movie – Predator

    The concept would be the idea that causes the problem in the story and at the same time may be something interesting and conceptual, like aliens and robots. Am I right?

  2. MikeR

    Did you ever watch a puppet-show when you just couldn’t take your eyes off the strings? You’re supposed to be doing the “suspension of disbelief” thing, but you just can’t figure out why-bother. Ever read a book which “had all the right bits in all the right (or wrong) places,” and all that you could say about it was, “So What?” Yeah, sure you have. Harlequin sells a ton of ’em to teenage girls, so-many cents a pound.

    There was “just one layer to it all,” and nothing more. It felt like there was no “reason” for it. Words like “dull,” “dry,” “mechanical,” and “predictable” came to mind. The “heroes” got into a sticky situation, then got out, then got into another one, then got out of that one. You could almost see the teleprompter.

    And then, there’s the opposite problem. The Grand Totality of Being-ness is right there on the gleaming page, as if you were meant to sit cross-legged in the midst of it, holding a candle and humming (and thereby selling soft drinks? but i digress …). It’s all beautiful, but going nowhere because it just has nowhere to go.

    Hard to describe, harder to spot, at least in your own work. It sounds like a good deal to me.

  3. @Larry. Quick question for you. In Writer’s Digest’s latest promo for their workshops, one line says: How to identify and plot the 4 major scenes in every great novel, memoir, and screenplay

    Where would you place those 4 major scenes? I would think FPP and SPP are givens, but what about the other two?

  4. @Nann — hmmm, I like to think of it as five major scenes, or scene-sequences (in no order of priority here, but rather, order of appearance: hook, FPP, midpoint, 2ndPP, and climax/resolution. If I had to guess at which four made the cut for that WD webinar… maybe they’re not counting the hook or the 2ndPP. Then again, it might be coming from a completely different place, somewhere along the lines of character revelation and arc, subtext, etc. If you optin, let us know! Thanks — Larry

  5. Newguy

    Here’s another concept vs. premise exercise

    Concept – What if an amazingly powerful magic ring once lost is now found?

    Premise – A powerful wizard visits a young hobbit with a quest…

    Movie – Lord of the Rings

    Concept – What if a cult lead by a powerful sorcerer takes over the land?

    Premise – A young boy watches his mother killed before his own eyes…

    Movie – Conan

    This one is difficult to ‘pin’ down

    Concept – What if a man learns that some secrets should be left unknown?

    Premise – a man discovers a magic box and upon opening it discovers that in fact demons and hell do exist…

    Movie – Hellraiser

    At first glance Hellraiser’s concept would seem to be the box itself and the ability to summon demons with it. I think that this is not it. The concept is actually sort of the lesson that the movie is sending, like a different take on the story of Pandora’s box. The stories tension is built around the idea that some things should be left unknown and the box is simply a manifestation of this idea. Maybe I’m wrong.

  6. MikeR

    @Newguy – my guess is that if you spend some time reading the books and poking-around through past postings on this site, you will quickly see that your ‘concepts’ are probably ‘scenarios.’

    “A lost ring is found.” (So what?) “Aliens are hungry for a new source of food and have found a planet full of it.” (So what?) “A powerful sorcerer kicks butt?” (So?) “Questions that should be left unknown are exposed.” (Yawn… the world’s full of ’em. WHY do I care?)

    Where’s the Drama?

    In Tolkein’s epic, the finding of the ring imposes a “Catch-33.” It threatened their entire world with destruction if its Maker possessed it; and threatened each of them with personal destruction if they seized it; and it promised the end of the Age of Middle Earth if the ring was destroyed. Either way, the end of the world as they know it. No matter who “they” are.

    Hellraiser’s concept is a lot like, say, “Jumanji,” but without Robin Williams. Neither a box from hell, nor a board-game with the irresistible power to make what its dice say actually become true, nor a magic spirit trapped in a rusty lamp, are by themselves “dramatic concepts” into which a premise could be added.

  7. Newguy

    I think that I am right on the base concept here. If you expand on my concept a little for Predator “What if an alien hunter came to earth to hunt humans and interrupted the escape route of a covert military mission trying to get out of the jungle?” This is it. This is the concept for the movie. Nothing more. I am pointing at what the central tension is with a simple concept.

    With Conan “What if a cult lead by a powerful sorcerer takes over the land and kills the mother of a powerful warrior who will one day get revenge?” This is it. This is the concept. The rest of the plot is just details. I am succinct in stating the concept because I am pointing out what the engine for the movie is. Not all concepts are going to knock you off your feet when you hear them. In fact few will.

    If the concept is too flashy the story is probably relying on a clever concept too much. The two highest grossing movies of all time – Titanic and Avatar and Ill throw in Star Wars – don’t have concepts that knock me off my feet when I hear them. What they do have is incredible execution.

    What I see is that people aren’t writing concepts when they summarize stories, they’re going on and on about details without ever getting to the heart of a story. In a story that is going to be successful the main concept should be relatively simple.

    The heart of Avatar.- A man who goes undercover to spy on native inhabitants of an alien world becomes sympathetic and helps them defend their land. It’s Dances with Wolves on an alien planet. The details in the execution of the story are exactly that, details.

  8. @Larry: I agree with your choice of five major scenes. I don’t opt in to any of WD’s offering; I get enough info from your site and your books. 🙂