In my post on Starting with Characters, I talked about how some authors start with an interesting character.
Today, I’m going to discuss the type of inspiration that always drives me to the keyboard; Concepts.
To save you all from eye-strain, I’ll be breaking this into three separate posts because there’s three types of concepts that lead to a story. The three concept related topics are;
- The World Concept
- The Scene Concept
- The Thematic Concept
Concept vs. Idea
I had mentioned the notion of concept versus idea in my post on Writing Like it’s Chess. However, if you don’t feel like clicking on the link, here’s the quick version;
- A Concept is a vague notion – ie. A world ruled by evil dragons.
- An Idea is a definitive shape that sounds more like a short synopsis.
For the purpose of these articles, I’m talking strictly about Concepts. These vague notions that will only become a story after a great deal of poking and prodding (we’ll talk about poking & prodding later).
The World Concept
The World Concept is much like what I used for my example above. It usually comes from thinking of worlds that don’t exist, or about unique and interesting ways to view our own world.
Strip all the story out of Harry Potter, what do you have? Imagine a world where magic exists alongside of us, but normal people are ignorant of it. Cool idea. Not overly original, but cool nonetheless. But it’s not a story. Instead, it is the beginning of an interesting world where a story will take place.
However, that can often be enough to drive someone to the keyboard.
Be aware, I also lump the “People with amazing abilities” type of concept into the World Concept because, after all, the world they live in would be different.
Starting with a World Concept, in my opinion, is the fastest way to story (in terms of the Concept category). Because a world already begins to give rules, and because of the rules of that world, the nature of its people begins to become apparent as well.
Take the example of the world ruled by evil dragons. Some rules have been established, such as, mythical creatures can exist in this world. If mythical creatures exist, it’s possible magic does too. Chances are the physics of this world are similar to our own, but it is likely at Medieval tech level at most (unlikely dragons would allow the scientific discoveries we’ve made). Humans in this world are probably of two types; those who cower in fear & serve and those who are filled with outrage and are always on the lookout for a way to rebel.
That took me 45 seconds to come up with. Sure, it’s not a story yet, but because the world and the people in it are taking shape, it’s not too hard to find the story. Will it be about those who are rebellious? Will it be about a character who currently cowers, but due to some event, rises to lead the rebellion? Or will it be about one of the dragons? This could go on for a while.
What’s the weakness here? In my experience, Characters.
Just like I cautioned that a strong & dominant character might overshadow their story, an overwhelming concept could cause characters to be shallow and act as nothing but standard archetypes.
Fact is, when you start with an amazing concept, it can blind you to the “human” side of the story. Who does a reader relate to? Who is the hero here? Is the author so preoccupied with their own concept that the story meanders and feels stagnant?
Been there, done that. Which is exactly why I throw it out there as something to look out for.
Just as in the Character inspired story where you need your story to meet your character, in the World Concept story you need characters who are just as interesting and compelling as the world they live in. Otherwise no one will care. Not to mention that the story will feel like a series of cliches.
Next article will focus on a closely related Concept, that of the Scene.