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06.08.2016 14:13    Comments: 0    Categories: Fiction Writing      Tags: randy ingermanson  concept  high concept  larry brooks  story fix  

I’m reading Larry Brooks’s latest book STORY FIX. Larry is a friend of mine, a well-known fiction teacher and blogger, and he sent me a free copy recently. I’m about a third of the way in right now.


Larry’s books always make me think. I should say that Larry and I don’t have our minds wired the same way, so it usually takes me some work to figure out what he’s saying.


Both Larry and I believe very strongly that story structure is incredibly important. That’s actually how I met Larry. He was teaching a workshop at the Willamette Writers Conference a few years ago. I wandered in two minutes late and sat in the back row. His talk was about the large-scale structure of a story, and it was BRILLIANT. I loved what he had to say. So I went up and introduced myself after his talk and we’ve been friends ever since.


I can’t review the whole book, because I haven’t read it all yet, but I’ve just finished the two chapters on Concept and Premise, which are related. In this article, I’ll tell you what I learned in the Concept chapter. But be aware that this isn't quite how Larry said it. This is my interpretation of what he said, after thinking a bit.


Larry tends to think and talk a bit more abstractly than I do. Like I said, our brains are wired differently. That’s good, because it makes me work when I read his stuff. It’s also bad, because I have to work when I read his stuff.


The interesting thing is that as I was working through Larry’s chapter on Concept, I had an insight: I’m a very concept-driven novelist.


I never realized that. All my books are built on concepts. And that's happened naturally, without me thinking about it. Like most novelists, my concepts could be better if I worked on them harder. But that requires me to know that I should, and when you're a conceptish kind of person, you might not think about that fact, any more than a fish thinks about the fact that it's immersed in water.




So what does Larry mean by Concept? I thought I was going to go crazy trying to figure this out, because Larry doesn’t define it right away. He talked about Concept for quite awhile and I kept trying to guess what the heck it actually is. But he finally defined it on page 48, and I’ll quote him exactly:


The best definition of concept, because it is a multifaceted proposition, resides in melding of the following perspectives, resulting in one conceptual identity:

  • Concept is the central idea from which a story emerges.
  • Concept is an arena, a landscape, a stage upon which a story will unfold.
  • Concept can be a proposition, a notion, a situation, or a condition.
  • Concept can create an alternate universe or setting with its own physics, dangers, and challenges.
  • Concept can be a time or a place, a culture or a speculative imagining.
  • What makes an idea a concept is the presence of something conceptual.

By my count, that’s around 100 words. Let me try to boil it down to my kindergarten-level understanding:


“Concept is the idea that makes your novel freaking cool.”


Ten words, and the most important of those ten is “freaking.”


Ideas are cheap. There are tons of ideas. Just having an idea for a novel is not enough. Not nearly enough.


Cool ideas are not cheap. They’re hard to come by. Having a cool idea is much better than merely having an idea. You can get published with a cool idea, and you can sell some copies.


But there’s a big payoff in going for the freaking cool idea. And I don’t have to define what a freaking cool idea is, because you know it when you see it.


Please note one important point here. Concept is the main freaking cool idea for the story, before you add characters and a plot.


A side note: When people talk about “High Concept,” what they mean is a Concept so freaking cool that it sells your book without you ever having to say anything about the characters and plot. Books like that sell a lot of copies.


What If Your Idea Isn’t Freaking Cool?


Larry’s got a lot of advice on what to do if your novel isn’t freaking cool yet, and I recommend you grab a copy of his book to read that advice. I’ll boil it down to my level. It’s a two step process. First I’ll tell you the process, and then I’ll show you some examples that I’ve adapted from ones Larry mentions in his book.


The process:

  • If your idea is not yet cool, then intentionally add stuff to make it cool.
  • If your idea is cool, but not yet freaking cool, then intentionally add stuff to make it freaking cool.

This may sound obvious, but I would bet most writers never do this. I’m pretty sure I never have. Success in life often comes from doing the "obvious" stuff.


When I say “add stuff,” of course I mean to add the kind of things in Larry’s long 100-word definition above. An arena, a situation, a setting, a culture, a time, or whatever.


The key word in the process is “intentionally.” It’s very easy to put cool ideas into your novel willy-nilly, just snagging them as they sail into your brain at odd moments. But those thoughts come at random, so it’s natural to believe that you can’t drum up cool ideas on command. It’s natural to just take what comes by, without ever thinking that MAYBE I COULD ADD MORE COOL STUFF INTENTIONALLY.


Being “intentional” means that you make it part of your writing process to stop and think about adding more cool stuff.


Is that part of your writing process?


It hasn’t been part of mine. But it will be from now on.


Some Examples of Adding Cool Stuff


The Harry Potter series is about a boy wizard. That’s the basic idea, and it’s already a cool idea. But J.K. Rowling made it freaking cool by setting it in a British boarding school. In a world dominated by an evil wizard. Who killed our boy wizard’s parents. This world is much like our world—in fact it could be our world, for all we know—because the witches and wizards do all in their power to keep Muggles ignorant that they exist. All of these are great additions that make the Harry Potter series freaking cool. But J.K. Rowling piled on yet one more bit of coolness. Harry Potter’s world is deeply torn by racism. Many of the witches and wizards believe that Muggles are inherently inferior and can be killed at will. They’re racists, trying to take control of the magical world. But many other witches and wizards believe that Muggles have rights and should be defended. And there are witches and wizards born of Muggle families—these are known as mud-bloods. This scenario makes every single reader of Harry Potter a target of a vicious racist society. Which, for many readers, is a new experience.


The Hunger Games series is about a young woman who’s forced to participate in a battle-to-the-death with 23 other teens. That’s already very cool. But Suzanne Collins made it cooler by adding more stuff. There are two teens from each district, a boy and a girl. Our heroine Katniss knows the boy who’s going into the arena with her—and he once saved her life. So how’s she going to kill him in the arena, if they come face to face? That’s cooler. But there’s more. The boy, Peeta, is secretly in love with Katniss. He won’t kill her. In fact, he’s planning to sacrifice himself to keep her alive if he possibly can. That’s freaking cool. But there’s more. Katniss is not in love with Peeta, but she doesn’t want him to die, and she finally realizes that there’s a way to save him—by pretending to be in love with him. That’s doubly freaking cool. And there’s more, because this is a world devoid of hope, and Katniss becomes a symbol of hope to desperate people. Katniss must be crushed by the powers-that-be. Her battle is not against her peers. It’s against the evil rulers of her dark world. That reaches biblical proportions of freaking coolness.


Yes Adding Cool Stuff is Hard


Let’s be clear. It’s easy to say, “add stuff to make it freaking cool.” It’s a lot harder to actually do it. That’s why they pay big authors the big bucks—because they do something hard.


But the first step on the road to nirvana is knowing that there’s a road to nirvana. Even if it’s hard, you’re better off knowing it than not knowing it.


Add stuff. Make your story idea cool.


Then make it cooler and cooler.


Don’t stop until it’s freaking cool.


Keep going until it’s as freaking cool as you can possibly make it.


That’s what I learned from one chapter of Larry’s book. That’s not exactly the way Larry said it. I had to work to get it into my brain. Larry might not even agree with my read on it. I’ll have to ask him. But I think I’m a better writer for having read the chapter and chewed on it.

There are sixteen chapters in Larry’s book. If you want to know what’s in the others, you’ll have to go read it yourself. Be prepared to work the book. The more you work, the more you’ll own the ideas.

You can find STORY FIX here:

Find it on Amazon.



Read more articles by Randy.



About The Author


Randy Ingermanson is a theoretical physicist and the award-winning author of six novels. He has taught at numerous writing conferences over the years and publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the largest electronic magazine in the world on the craft of writing fiction, with over 11000 readers.


Randy is best known for his "Snowflake Method" of designing a novel. The "Snowflake" page on this web site has been viewed more than 514,000 times over the years.


Randy believes that prepublished novelists fall into four distinct stages, Freshmen, Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors. Each of these stages has its own unique needs. Have you been a Freshman longer than you think you should? Or are you stuck in a Sophomore slump? Check out Writing Fiction For Dummies. Don't settle for where you are! Take action today.

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