Two Video Tutorials on Nailing Your Concept

Some of us are visual learners.  This is for you.

Some of us take more than a few passes at it before it sinks in.  This is for you, as well.

I’m talking about CONCEPT within a story. 

What it is.  What is isn’t.  How and why concept and premise are different things entirely, and why you need to wrap your head around this before your genre-based story will work.

That’s an absolute, by the way.  In genre – including romance and mystery, which are the two most challenging stories relative to coming up with something conceptual within the story – concept is essential.

If you’re writing “literary fiction,” not so much.

Concept is always a matter of degree. 

It can be so flat and obvious and completely lacking in compelling energy that it could be said that such a story has no concept at all.

But that’s never true.  There is always a concept within a genre-centered or commercially-ambitious story.  The question becomes, does it add value?  Does it create a stage upon with a story will unfold… does it define a story landscape… does it pose a question or a proposition or a notion… does it show a unique or unusual character attribute…

… and then… is that stage, landscape, question, notion or character attribute compelling, and to what degree?

Perhaps a more accessible way to put it is like this: does the concept empower the premise that tells “a” story from a specific concept?

I put quotation marks around the “a” in that sentence to punch this point: a compelling concept often yields more than one story – any number of stories, in fact – from it.

Concept is the thing that makes a series work.  But within genre, it is also the lifeblood of the stand-alone novel.

Examples: Superman.  James Bond.  Hunger Games.  Harry Potter. Pretty much any series story.  Or stand-alones like The Lovely Bones, The Davinci Code, The Help… just name a bestseller from a new writer, and you can be sure there’s a killer concept in play.

Concepts for these stories are all propositions that are not yet premises – they are completely void of plot, meaning the concept stands alone as compelling before a plot is defined by virtue of the arena, setting, stage, landscape, notion, proposition or hero/villain attribute that resides at the heart of the concept…

… BEFORE it becomes a premise.  Because to become premise, you need to add a PLOT.  A hero’s quest, goal, problem or opportunity… with something at stake… with something blocking the hero’s path.

And THAT is premise, pure and simple.

Concept and premise are different things.  Keep that in mind as you watch these two movie previews, both of which display their concepts front and center, but only one of which goes on to add (after the concept has been introduced) a premise (a plot).


This preview is nothing other than concept.  There isn’t a plot, or anything close to a plot, even hinted at.  But it’ll be there when you see the movie… but it’s not what will sell the story.  The concept sells the story.

George Clooney sums it up in the final moments of this trailer: “You wanna go?”  When the concept is rich and compelling, the answer will always be yes.

Click HERE to view it.

Jurassic World

This is a trailer for the new version of Spielberg’s classic, and the first half of it is nothing other than concept.  Pure and simple.

But then, you actually get a preview of the story itself (which doesn’t happen in the Tomorrowland trailer), with a glimpse at the plot.

View the new Jurassic Park trailer HERE.

You wanna go?  Of course you do.

Plot (which is premise) is a different realm of compulsion altogether.  And yet, when a compelling concept becomes the raw grist for a compelling plot… yeah, you wanna go.  Straight to the book store or theater.

The Learning

It is, pure and simple, this: within genre stories, concept is the reason the reader will come.  Sure, they’ll appreciate your great characterization and your stellar prose (they are wonderful and essential, make no mistake), but don’t kid yourself.  You’re not writing “literature.”  You are writing in a  genre, and genre can be considered to be synonymous with concept.

Concept is the presence of something conceptual at the heart of story that imbues everything – plot and character – with compelling energy.

Look at your story and ask if your reader, at a glance, will answer the question – “You wanna go?” – with an enthusiastic nod.  Character needs to earn that response.  Concept, however, elicits an immediate response.

If you’ve been confused by this, I hope these visual tutorials (in the form of movie trailers) will help you differentiate concept from premise, and moreover, understand how the former empowers the premise toward something that readers will engage with.



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5 Responses to Two Video Tutorials on Nailing Your Concept

  1. The definition of CONCEPT here is nothing but the SUBJECT MATTER of an article or a story. In other words, what is your unique POINT OF VIEW on your story. It is this statement that actually drives the entire story, be it character, premise or plot, to its resolution.

  2. @M Sohan – I agree, concept is “subject matter.” But from a teaching standpoint, that simplification actually over-simplifies. Hearing only that, a newer writer wouldn’t understand the various ways concept can be addressed and optimized within a story… and there are several (many) separate ways to make it happen (defined in this post).

    Your words “nothing but” implies a “duh” sort of context here… this is like saying that good health is “nothing but” eating right and exercising,” when in fact that doesn’t really educate and doesn’t allow someone embarking upon a program to substantially improve/fix their health – or their writing – to benefit from more specific strategies. Experienced writers – perhaps that’s you – get it, newer writers need that specificity, which is what I teach here.

    Thanks for visiting and reading my stuff, I appreciate your input. L.

  3. Excellent teaching examples.

    What I also learned. You have done to good a job with me. I can’t watch anything, even a trailer without seeing “it.” Jurassic World. Moms first line ” If anything chases you run.” Later, Hero tells us that T-Rex, what else, and a female to boot, ‘will kill anything that moves.” T-Rex stomping. People running. Cut to the kid shadowed by big T. Guess what I know from all that forshadowing? The kid not only doesn’t run, he doesn’t move.

    Thanks Larry. No one wants to go to the movies with me now. 🙂

  4. Anne Kaelber

    Thank you! I’ve really been struggling with the distinctions between concept, premise and (believe it or not), plot. I tend towards verbosity naturally (which means much editing down!), so I keep trying to tell the plot (the 3 tent poles) *in* the concept/premise.

    If you were to draw a diagram to represent the relationships these terms (should) have to each other, would it be a Venn diagram?


  5. I’ve been struggling with premise and concept every since “Story Engineering”…but this really helps.

    Can I say: Premise…the “situation” sans characters?

    Got it: Concept = Premise + Plot.