Why Your ‘Great’ Story Concept Might Be Killing Your Writing

Writers are always told they need a great concept, but what if your story problems lie in a concept that’s too great? Let me explain.

To honour my 2023 writing goals, I’ve been reading advice on what story I should write next. I didn’t want to get halfway through a project and find I couldn’t commit to it. Some of my favourite articles on the topic are:

From these I have gleaned a very important, and somewhat heartbreaking, lesson about a writing project of mine that I haven’t been able to quite get off the ground. And that is:

Concept Is Not Story

If you’re a long-time follower, you might already know that I’ve been wanting to write a story about children raised by an AI. What you might not know is that I have found it very difficult to escape this concept. It’s no exaggeration when I say it has been absolutely haunting me for years, distracting me from other writing projects with its sheer ‘cool’ factor. You’d think this would be a sign that this is most definately the story I need to write next… only when I actually go to write the damn thing, I get bogged down in plot clutter, resulting in writer’s block.

It’s taken me a long time to accept that this is not a story I can write.

Because there is no story. It’s not there.

Sure, I have ideas for conflicts – the trauma of being raised by a machine, the difficulty with attachments, how the children compare other humans to their perfect machine parents etc. There’s a lot of juicy stuff here.

But this isn’t enough.

On the surface, this seems basic stuff but the challenge comes in recognising it. When you love an idea so much, it’s extremely difficult to distance yourself enough to recognise its faults.

Getting Caught in the ‘wows’ of A Premise Will Stop You From Writing

Not only is it a struggle to write a story that simply isn’t there, when a story does emerge it often feels inadequate.

There are so many ways to explore the same idea and when you’re so in love with an idea and not a story or characters, nothing you come up with feels right. Guess what happens next? Writer’s block.

I would absolutely recommend the video below if, like me, you are struggling to know if your shiny concept will birth a story. In the video, Glenn Gers outlines six essential questions to ask yourself when developing your story:

  1. Who is it about?
  2. What did they want?
  3. Why can’t they get it?
  4. What did they do about it?
  5. Why doesn’t that work?
  6. How does it end?

However, if you’ve answered these questions and you’re not satisfied with what you’ve come up with, it’s probably time to set that great concept aside until you are ready to look at it with a more critical eye – or even, with a less criticial one – so that you can finally develop it into a story you want to write.

Disclaimer

Any advice given is based on observations from works I enjoy and is not intended to be taken as the end-all-be-all solution to everyone’s writing woes. I do not give advice that I myself don’t follow or haven’t found useful at some point. Please remember that writing is an ongoing learning experience and I’m not flawless.


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