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What's up with story concept and story premise?

Are they interchangeable words


for the same ideaor are they separate tools with their own important jobs to
fulfill?
I know you guys picked Door #2'cause you're wicked smart like that. But it's a
fact: "story concept" and "story premise" are often used interchangeably, which
just goes to highlight the rampant confusion about them. So what's the diff?
And why does it matter? Storyfixer Larry Brooks said it as concisely as anybody
in his free PDF Deadly Faux's Inner Life:
A story about what it was like to be on the Titanic on the night of its
sinking that is NOT a premise. It is a concept only.
Let's take a closer look at how to tell the difference.
What Is a Story Concept?
In the beginning, there weren't any characters. There wasn't any plot. There was
just... the idea. That's your story concept.
You may have heard the moviespeak term "high-concept premise" (note how it
differentiates story concept from story premise). A high concept is one that can
be easily pitched because it's both simple and unique. Consider these gems:
* Romeo and Juliet as vampire and werewolf. (Underworld)
* A soldier restarts time whenever he dies. (The Edge of Tomorrowor Live Die
Repeat or whatever the cool kids are calling it these days)
* A girl dying of cancer falls in love. (The Fault in Our Stars)
Concept is just the bare bones of the story. But they're super-important bones,
since they're the foundation of everything to follow. A weak concept may still
lead to a strong premise, but why start weak? Aim high! And by "high," I mean
high concept. All of the above stories could conceiveably have started with
concepts as blas as these:
Story Concept and Story Premise: Do You Know the Crucial
Difference?
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* Two people fall in love.
* A man fights aliens.
* A teenager falls in love.
They're not bad ideas. But they're ideas we've all seen a gazillion times, so
they're not worthy of much more than a yawnuntil the author digs down, finds
something unique, and turns them into the concepts high enough, unique
enough, and interesting enough to actually reach audiences.
What Is a Story Premise?
A story premise is the next step up from a story concept. If the story concept is
the bones, then the story premise is the first of the flesh. The premise is where
your awesome concept idea starts getting personal. You add characters with
goals and fears and motives, and you add plot, via the obstacles that are going
to arise between the characters and their desires.
A premise is about the specifics of people falling in love and fighting wars. The
real story always happens between the lines of the concept. To return to Larry
Brooks's example, the Titanic is just a fascinating disaster until the author
starts focusing on one or two specific people and the ways in which their lives
will intertwine with the tragedy. Band of Brothers is just a docudrama of a
historical war until it becomes the story of specific people with specific desires
and goals. What's The Hunger Games without Katniss sacrificing herself to save
her sister? What's Mistborn and its metal-based magic system without a scrappy
orphan struggling to find a reason to fight for a family?
Consider Edge of Tomorrow. Its low concept "a man fights aliens" becomes the
high concept "a soldier restarts time whenever he dies," which then becomes a
premise:
After gaining the alien power to restart time whenever he dies, a
cowardly futuristic soldier must join forces with the only person who
believes him, a skilled female warrior, and die over and over until
they can locate and destroy the alien leader.
So what does this premise give us (other than a solid logline we can now use for
pitching and promo)?
* Protagonist? Check. (Soldier.)
* Specifics about protagonist? Check. (Cowardly and futuristic.)
* Set-up? Check. (Gains the alien power to restart time whenever he dies.)
* Antagonist? Check. (Alien leader.)
* Goal? Check. (Locate and destroy alien leader.)
* Obstacles/conflict? Check. (Dies over and over again.)
* Bonus: Supporting character(s)? Check. (Skilled female warrior.)
In short, we've got a story. Literally. I just told you a 44-word story, complete
with beginning, middle, and end. Now the fun is fleshing out that premise into a
novel!
3 Reasons You Need to Know the Difference Between Story Concept and
Story Premise
There are a couple reasons why all of this is important.
1. Terminology Matters
Knowing and using the correct terminology makes you look smart. Even better, a
conscious understanding of the differences will help you identify and use your
story's concept and premise in their correct forms.
2. Concept and Premise Work Better Together Once You Understand Them
Apart
If we're lumping concept and premise together, then we're missing the
opportunity to use their unique strengths separately. Concept builds into
premise. When we start with a clear idea and transform it into as high a concept
as possible, we can then use that concept to build a solid premise. And then we
get to use that solid premise as a launch pad for the entire story. The premise
sentence is the basis of your outline. In fact, if you so choose, the premise
sentence, all by its lonesome, can be your outline.
3. A Concept Isn't a Story; A Premise Is
This is possibly the most important reason. Too often, authors come up with a
great concept and think they've got a story. They run off to write the entire
novelonly to come up dry because, whoops, they didn't have a story after all.
You don't have a story until you have a premise.
Whenever a fabulous concept flashes to life, take the time to flesh it out into a
premise. The result will be a brilliant idea transformed into a solid foundation for
an awesome story.
About the Author: K.M. Weiland is
the internationally published author of
the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your
Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as
well as the western A Man Called
Outlaw, the medieval epic Behold the
Dawn, and the epic fantasy
Dreamlander. When shes not making
things up, shes busy mentoring other
authors. She makes her home in
western Nebraska.
www.kmweiland.com
www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com