by Ann Marie Williams © 2020

In my previous post, I discussed how the terms concept, plot, structure, format, and theme are often used in the writing world, but there isn’t always a universal definition for each term. Moreover, even though each term refers to a unique attribute of storytelling, those attributes affect one another (e.g. structure affects plot, plot affects theme), which further complicates how we define and understand each term.

So, throughout this week, I’m highlighting each term — one a time. I’ll give my explanation of the term, it’s role in storytelling, and how it interrelates with the other attributes.

Today’s topic: CONCEPT

What is Concept?


Concept (also known as premise) is the one idea that the story is built around. It’s the idea that allows for the plot to exist.

If you’re a screenwriter, the concept is usually the focus of the logline. For a book, it’s likely the focus of a (very short) summary — the brief blurb on the back of the cover.


Examples will be drawn from It's a Wonderful Life and The Martian.
Caution: There will be spoilers!

Concept example for It’s a Wonderful Life:  Seeing what the world would be like if you’d never been born.

Concept example for The Martian: A person is stranded on Mars.  Alone.

As you can see, both of these concepts are very straightforward, very to the point, and very succinct.  They are one specific thing.  One specific idea.


Concept and Plot

Concept is often a “what if” question. “What if you could see what the world would be like if you’d never been born?” “What if someone was stranded on Mars?” Therefore, the concept is a question that the story (the plot) must address and answer.

Without the concept, the main plot wouldn’t be able to exist.

Without the idea that you could see what the world would be like if you’d never been born into it, the entire resolution of It’s a Wonderful Life would have to be achieved in a very different way.

Without the question, “What if someone got stranded on Mars?” the story of The Martian wouldn’t exist at all.

Also, I think it’s worth noting that, while the plot only exists because of the concept, you could come up with a whole host of stories (plots) to convey these concepts.  And that’s part of the writer’s job: To find the plot that best conveys the concept. In other words:

The concept generates the plot. The plot serves the concept.

Concept and Theme

Sometimes can be difficult to differentiate concept and theme. And while I’ll discuss theme later in the week, right now the simple answer is this:

Concept is the idea. Theme is the message.

In other words: The concept is the idea of the story. The idea that generates the plot. The idea that allows for the events of the story. The theme is what your story is trying to say. The takeaway. What the story means — what the plot concludes. So:

Concept generates plot. Plot conveys theme.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow I’ll take a closer looks at: PLOT. But for now, remember:

Concept = Idea

Concept = Idea


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