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How to Create a Successful Story Concept

Updated: May 9

You’ve got an idea for a story. Maybe you’ve outlined it and started to write. But now you’ve hit a wall and aren’t even sure if the idea is interesting enough to capture audience attention let alone hold interest.

The hard truth is that many ideas run out of steam simply because the core story has not been interrogated rigorously enough.

The question is, how can you get the concept right before starting to write?

What is a story concept?

It’s the core; what the story boils down to at its very essence. The concept describes the dramatic narrative of the story and should have enough of a hook to pique the reader or viewer's interest.

Let’s look at examples from some recent popular tv shows.

Bad Reindeer: a man stalked by a woman realizes he must deal with his buried trauma.

Wednesday: a misfit loner sent to boarding school learns about the power of friendship.

Succession: siblings vie for their billionaire father’s business, love, and approval.

You get the idea. It’s the engine underneath the vehicle of plot that ensures we come back for more.

Characters from the TV show, Succession

The key to success lies not only in creating captivating characters and intriguing plotlines but also in crafting story concepts that can sustain an entire series. Developing such a concept requires a blend of creativity, strategic thinking, and an understanding of audience engagement.

Some of the best concepts include some kind of irony (such as Wednesday) that makes the story immediately come alive in the mind of the reader. It catches attention because it’s easy to get a sense of the story and the inherent conflict within it.

Perhaps, like Baby Reindeer, it’s a story that has never been told from that perspective before.

So, let’s delve into the essential steps to creating a powerful story concept that can keep viewers coming back for more.

1. Define Your Core Concept: At the heart of every successful series is a strong core that forms the foundation of the narrative. This concept should be broad enough to allow for exploration and development over multiple episodes but specific enough to provide a clear direction for storytelling. Take, for example, Breaking Bad. Its core concept—high school chemistry teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturer—provided endless possibilities for character growth and conflict.

2. Create Rich Characters: Memorable characters are the lifeblood of any series. Develop protagonists with depth, flaws, and compelling motivations that viewers can invest in over the long haul. Think of the diverse ensemble cast of Game of Thrones, each with their own complex backstory and agenda driving the overarching narrative forward.

3. Build a World Worth Exploring: Transport your audience into a richly imagined world that feels immersive and alive. Whether it's the intricate corporate landscape of Succession or the fantastical realms of Wednesday or Stranger Things, a well-developed setting can serve as both a backdrop and catalyst for storytelling.

4. Establish Clear Stakes and Conflict: Conflict is the engine that drives every great story. Define clear stakes early on and establish ongoing conflicts that keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Consider the tension between law enforcement, different criminal factions as well as the unfolding personal and family drama in The Sopranos that keeps us wondering about Tony Soprano’s fate.

5. Plan for Long-term Story Arcs: While each episode should offer its own narrative arc and resolution, it's essential to plant seeds for long-term story arcs that unfold gradually over multiple seasons. This can create a sense of anticipation and reward loyal viewers who invest in the series over time. A great current example of this is Poker Face. The main character has a mystery to solve each episode in addition to the season arc of being on the run from one very powerful criminal.

Crafting a winning story concept that can sustain an entire series is no small feat and can take years to get right.

Remember, a writing project never ends, only evolves…

If you’re interested in creating killer concepts, compelling character arcs and engaging storylines, check out our live online TV series writing summer course.

Special early bird price available now before enrolment starts June 1st.

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