Monday, July 13, 2009

VW#1: Conceptual Planning, Construction and Development

(click on image to see larger version)

I. The House of Story

Writers wear a lot of different hats whenever we work in FictionLand. We're the architects of story, and whether we formally outline or briefly summarize or scribble something in eyeliner pencil on the back of a cocktail napkin at 2 a.m., we draw up plans to make something out of nothing. As contractors we have to get our plans out there and secure the financing needed for the project, and as site managers we have to make sure the construction goes according to spec. The bulk of the time we spend writing is as construction workers, showing up at the site every day to lay the foundation, install the supports and build the story construct one segment at a time.

All of this time, thought and effort should result in a complete house of story; one that is unique, attractive and finished. A house that hopefully will tempt many people into pre-ordering and purchasing a copy for themselves.

The constructs are all different -- the house of story can be anything the writer desires to build: a huge, ornate showplace, cozy lover's cottage, quiet church, dude ranch, gadget-filled technotower, haunted castle or even a BDSM play pad. Because some constructs sell better than others, the demand changes -- right now a vampire's lair is hot, next year the self-help gymnasium may be all the rage.

Because the house of story only exists on paper and in the minds of the writer and reader, the construct has to be vivid, intriguing and convincing -- a castle in the air people can really live in for a few hours. If it's going to move once it's put up for sale, it should offer something new and exciting to a person who has spent many hours in and has intimate knowledge of thousands of other houses. The house of story should also be polished and finished to the point of perfection. But the most important work for the writer begins in the planning stages, when design decisions are made, and the concept of the construct is determined.

II. Building Versus Selling

You have a great idea for a house of story. It's going to be amazing; you can see it in your head. It came to you in the shower, or woke you up at three a.m., or just appeared out of nowhere. Now it's in your head, and it's demanding to be built. For most writers, this is all the design work we need to start a new project. We want to build it because it already exists for us, so we have to build it in order to show it to others. This is what drives us to build, because we want very badly to get the house of story out of our head and onto the page before it sinks into the bog of forgetfulness and vanishes forever.

This is also the point in almost every writer's work when things go wrong with the house of story. In the beginning we're so focused on the idea for the construct that nothing else matters. It's an occupational hazard; it's how writers are designed to function. If we weren't this intense we'd never build anything. It's also why almost every writer has a closet or file filled with unfinished plans, partial constructs or other projects that didn't work out. Sometimes our brightest ideas just don't work out once we start building; for whatever reason we lose interest or hit a impassible wall and the house of story collapses in mid-construction.

You can build anything based on any idea. You don't even have to have an idea to build; you can just start construction and make it up as you go along (and sometimes this even works.) You can construct an entire neighborhood of story houses based solely on your desire to build. Let's be straight about this, too -- I'm not telling you that you can't build. That's the one thing you never tell another writer.

What I am asking is, can you sell it? Because no matter how hard you work, how well you build and how completely you finish the house of story, if you can't sell it you're basically building it for yourself, and it will end up piled in the closet along with all the other houses no one will ever see or share.

III. Concept Planning

If you're going to be an architect of fiction, you need to think a little like the designers and builders of real houses. Here are some of the things you might want to nail down before you break ground:

A. Neighborhood Zoning (Determining the story's genre/category): What sort of story house are you building, and how should it be sold? And before anyone protests the need for categorization, remember the industry we're working in and how they market our houses -- primarily by the type of construct we build and how well it fits into a certain neighborhood. You need to classify your design before you try to build it because it's unlikely that you will sell a dude ranch to a guy looking to spend time in a haunted castle. You have to accept in advance that if you're building a dude ranch, you're probably not going to sell it to haunted castle fans.

Figure out first where your house of story belongs, or if it utterly defies categorization, the neighborhood where it will best fit in. If you're not sure, talk to other writers, your agent or your editor and run the idea past them. Be aware that some story houses do fit into more than one neighborhood and can be marketed as cross-genre or slipstream. Don't be ashamed of asking for input, either -- often writers are too close to an idea or too wrapped up in its possibilities to clearly see what Publishing zone it belongs in.

B. Design Appeal (Creating the story's main selling point, aka the hook): During the concept planning stage, this is probably the most important (and most frequently ignored) question to answer: What is going to attract publishers and readers to buy this house? You can be the most magnificent builder who ever picked up a brick, but if you can't tempt publishers and readers to even look at your house, odds are it will never sell.

The story hook is generally comprised of a concept (just like the idea you have in your head for the story) that is worded in such a way as to encapsulate it and make it attractive and appealing to others. It doesn't have to relay the entire idea -- that's what the story house is for -- but it needs to present a major enticement that will interest people into taking the full tour. The bigger and more exciting the enticement, the easier it will be to sell your story house.

A hook needs to be a lot of things, but primarily it should be brief, simply-worded, and contain the real power and conflict of the story:

1. A vampire hunter discovers her dream lover is a captive, tortured, blind vampire.

2. The secret lovechild of a powerful politician is the only witness to her father's murder.

3. A half-alien athlete trains as an assassin to kill her rapist father.

4. An outcast prostitute must save her friends and former family by harboring two spies intent on destroying them and their city.

5. A mystery writer haunted by the ghost of her worst critic tries to solve his murder.

Look at the juxtaposition of the concepts contained in the above hooks. The more conflict potential they have, the more powerful they are:

vampire hunter - blind vampire

secret lovechild - powerful politician

half-alien assassin - rapist father

outcast prostitute - enemy spies

mystery writer -- ghost critic

The situation as presented also plays a major part in the impact of the concept. For PBW's neighborhood, it has to be an almost impossible situation; what I think of as the worst possible situation for the protagonist to find themselves in. But whatever your situational preference is, the elements in the predicate you use in the hook (verbs, adjectives, objects of verbs) need to provoke a strong emotional response:

--a vampire hunter loving the a helpless vampire.

--a lovechild witnessing the murder of her powerful father.

--a half-alien assassin training to kill the rapist who created her.

--a prostitute protecting enemy spies to save those who cast her out.

--a mystery writer solving the murder of her worst critic.

IV. Concept Construction

Now that you have your concept, you have to decide how you're going to realize it in the construct of your house of story. It's all well and good to say "A vampire hunter discovers her dream lover is a captive, tortured, blind vampire" but how are you going to build that for your reader? Cross your fingers, hope for the best? You may end up wasting a brilliant hook by not delivering on the promise it makes.

Building means you answer the questions raised by the hook for the reader, or:

A vampire hunter (why is she a vampire hunter?) discovers (how?) her dream lover (who is this?) is a captive, tortured, blind vampire (how does she react to this discovery? What happens after this?)

Answer those questions, and you create plot, backstory, characterizations, motivations, and more:

A vampire hunter (looking for the vampire who murdered her parents) discovers (while searching throughout Europe for the artifact that the vampire stole from her parents in order to identify the vampire) her dream lover (literally, the man with whom she falls in love while she sleeps and dreams) is a captive, tortured, blind vampire (whom she finds, releases and escorts home while protecting him from an enemy who is hunting both of them while she continues her search for the killer.)

Even if you prefer not to outline, I firmly believe you still need some basic schematic (either on paper or in your head) of how to proceed. I also think you need to think about the major plot twist or revelation that is going to stun the reader once you've moved them into your story house. What is inside the construct waiting for them to discover? A secret room? A hidden passage? What if everything they see is not what it appears to be at first glance?

In the above example of the vampire hunter who falls for the blind vampire, there is a huge revelation at the end of the novel that changes everything about the story once the reader discovers it (which I'm not going to tell you; to find out what it is you'll have to read my book Night Lost.) I planned the twist before I ever wrote a single word of the story, and by doing so it guided me through the story and how to present every element in order to build up to the climatic point when everything the reader assumes is basically turned upside-down and inside-out.

V. Concept Development

Once you've worked out the planning and construction of your house of story's concept, there's one more thing you need to think about: how you might develop it beyond the first novel. Can your concept be developed into a sequel, a trilogy, a series, a spin-off, prequel, or some other continuation of the story?

Before every standalone writer out there slaps me in the head, hear me out on this. Suppose you came up with a brilliant concept, say a misfit girl who moves to a new town, meets a beautiful but grouchy and standoffish guy who turns out to be a vampire who cannot resist misfit girl. You write and sell that novel, which becomes an international bestseller that brings in millions of dollars for your publisher and you. Now, guess what they're going to want for the next book? Something brand new that has absolutely nothing to do with the first book? I don't think so.

Okay, everyone is not going the way of Stephenie Meyer. But she is a shining example of why you should at least think about concept development. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a standalone writer say, "I only wanted to write the one book, but now they want more; what'll I do?" It's happened to me; one of my trilogies ended, I was all finished, and then my editor said "Oh, no, we want more." That turned my trilogy into a six-book series (even with a pseudonym change in the very middle.)

Knowing your concept for the house intimately is important for possible further development of the idea. Let's go back to my design for my vampire hunter -- say Night Lost was the first and only Darkyn novel I had planned to write (it's actually the fourth in the series, but the storyline is the most isolated/standalone concept of the seven novels.) I have a vampire hunter, I have a blind vampire, and I have a vampire killer. All of their immediate situations are basically wrapped up and resolved by the end of the novel. End of story.

If I'd written it as a standalone but needed to develop it further, the first place I'd look to are the secondary characters in the story. Who besides the two protagonists were the most interesting? Who had a storyline that I could take a little further and develop? My pick would be Korvel, the vampire captain of the guard who was featured in a subplot of the story. Korvel has the ability to make any female want him, but then falls in love with the one woman he'll never have. The guy is a mess; he'd make a great protagonist.

Another option to consider is where the protagonists go or what they decide to do after the end of the story. Their continuing story could initiate the plot of the next book. Let's say my unlikely pair ride off into the night, but the first vampire they try to free turns out to be bait in a trap meant for them. Now the only hope they have is the bait, and one of their captor's guards, who was once kept prisoner by a vampire . . . and who has fallen in love with the bait.

Extending the development of a single story house into a series of them requires more forethought, more examination of the supporting characters and continuation options available in the first book. As the author of several series, I can assure you that it's not easy to extend a single-novel concept into three, five or even ten novels. For that kind of work, you need to develop a separate series concept that will fuel multiple novels as well as a standalone conflict for each installment.

VI. Concept Troubleshooting

There are an infinite number of problems that come up during the concept process; I could spend all week exploring maybe 10% of them. Over the years, however, I've noticed that three in particular bedevil writers on a frequent basis:

1. The concept is not strong enough to sell the book.

Playing it safe conceptually is a common habit among many writers; they believe it's easier to sell something that won't rock the boat, break any rules or offend the politically correct. The result is a concept that is just okay; a story that has a nice plot, the right sort of characters, an easily-resolved conflict and the requisite happily ever after. Yawn.

There are writers out there who have made careers out of playing it safe, so I won't lie to you -- you can sell books like this, and with some luck and the right conservative publisher, even make a modest living at it. You can also eat library paste. My question is, why would you want to do either?

If your concept lacks the ability to provoke an emotional response, it's weak, and no one wants to live in a house of story that can fall down around them at any moment. Look at each story element and see how you can power it up, invest it with more meaning and significance, and above all more conflict potential. Step outside your comfort zone and play with some new ideas. Be daring, too. The key here is not to hold yourself back (which is the primary cause of weak story houses) but to let yourself go.

2. The concept is too complicated to make clear the design to others.

If I ask you what your story concept is and it takes you half an hour to tell me, you either stutter very badly or your concept is too complicated. A concept that hasn't been distilled into a brief, clear design that can be related easily to others is going to get muddled or lost in translation.

Complicated concepts can have any number of causes, but they all share one thing in common: the writer has lost their grip on the house of story. An idea often grows so large and detailed in the mind of the wandering writer that they get sucked out of the construct and become lost in the Forest of Cool Story Stuff. Then there is the inexperienced/new writer who throws everything and the kitchen sink into their first novel, which results in them burying themselves alive in a towering heap of Earnest Story Stuff. Still another writer will try to relate every single detail possible via the concept, and end up choking it with Endless Story Stuff.

If your house of story concept is too complicated for someone else to understand, my advice is to do two things: a) stop thinking about all the cool stuff in the story and b) start whittling it down. Somewhere lost in or buried under or choked by all that stuff is a story concept; you just have to keep chopping away until you find and uncover it.

3. The concept is unoriginal.

Clones, cliches, knock-offs -- whatever you want to call them -- are concepts that are based on or lifted from another writer's published work. This type of emulation is done by writers at all stages of the game -- from rookies who want to knockoff an established writer's work in order to be read by the same fans (or be viewed in the same light) to veterans who have exhausted their own wells and are looking for concepts they can easily lift and alter just enough to keep them legal.

Unoriginal concepts do sell; we're just now seeing a small flood of Twilight knockoffs hit the market. By next year I expect that will grow to a tidal wave that will leave us up to our necks in angsty teen vampires and their high school hijinks. I kind of doubt that even collectively they'll make the millions that the original did, but Publishing is nothing if not hopeful of (yet another!) vampire trend.

While we're waiting for the YA tsunami to hit, here is my advice on how I think you should properly troubleshoot a concept that is recognizably unoriginal: take it to the nearest trash can, drop it inside, then start over from scratch. Don't waste your talent writing what amounts to a liftjob or fanfic. You're better than that. Tap your interests and your ideas. Building in a popular neighborhood doesn't mean you have to rip off other writers -- take the style and see what you can make of it. Above all, have faith in yourself and what you can do on your own.

Finally, here's one last thought before you head back to the drafting table. Arne Jacobsen said If architecture had nothing to do with art, it would be astonishingly easy to build houses, but the architect's task - his most difficult task - is always that of selecting.

So is yours. Choose wisely, always.

VII. Related Links

Conquering the High Concept by James Bonnet

See how a writer designs and builds the house of story (and why) by reading Dorian Scott Cole's Story development - planning phase for Wife For Sale.

If you want to write a novel but you don't know what to write about, give this workshop a try: Asking the Right Questions by Holly Lisle

Definitive design: High Concept Defined Once and For All by Steve Kaire.

Screewriters are especially well-versed in writing to concept, and Alexis Niki's article The Low-down on High Concept explains why. Blog has an excellent post, Writing the High Concept Hook that includes some helpful links.

For fun: generate your own simple floor plans with's online house plan generator.

Today's LB&LI giveaways are:

1) A brand-new AlphaSmart Neo smart keyboard

2) a goodie bag which will include unsigned new copies of:

Burn by Linda Howard (hardcover)

Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen (trade pb)
The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi (trade pb)
The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer (trade pb)
Animal Attraction by Charlene Teglia (trade pb)

Talyn and Hawkspar by Holly Lisle (paperbacks)
The Iron Hunt and Darkness Calls by Marjorie M. Liu
The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood (pocket pb)

plus signed paperback copies of my novels StarDoc, Night Lost and Evermore, as well as some other surprises.

If you'd like to win one of these two giveaways, comment on this workshop before midnight EST on Tuesday, July 14, 2009. I will draw two names from everyone who participates and send one winner the AlphaSmart Neo and the other the goodie bag.

Everyone who participates in the giveaways this week will also be automatically entered in my grand prize drawing on July 21st, 2009 for the winner's choice of either a ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-P 10.1" Seashell Netbook or a Sony PRS-700BC Digital Reader.

As always, all LB&LI giveaways are open to anyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.

Other LB&LI Workshop Links -- new links are being added every day, so keep checking the list for new workshops (due to different time zones, some of these will go live later in the day):

E-publishing: From Query to Final Edits and Beyond -- Authors Madison Blake, Paris Brandon, Cerise Deland, Fran Lee, Afton Locke and Nina Pierce provide helpful insights and tips on e-publishing. Today's author: Cerise Deland

How-To Books that Saved My Life by Alison Kent -- a look at the three how-to books the author can't write without, and why.

Writing Prompt Series - Who? by Rosina Lippi -- Build a character on the basis of an image Rosina will provide.

From Pantser To Plotter: How I Joined The Dark Side by Kait Nolan -- Monday's topic: Why The Pantser Fears Plotting

About eBooks by Midnight Spencer –- A basic understanding of what eBooks are and what types of readers and formats.

Left Behind and Reading Joe Hill by Charlene Teglia -- Charlene explores what hooks a reader via her own experience with Joe Hill's debut novel.

Epubs-wondering where to start? by Shiloh Walker -- Info for those curious about epubs and where to start.

Killer Campaigns: Business Cards by Maria Zannini -- Design your own business cards


  1. I love this workshop. Not because I can't make it to the con, but because I can print it up, highlight, and re-read it later. I sometimes suck at taking notes because my mind wanders along with a topic and loses focus on the track the speaker is following.
    Thanks for the help!

  2. What a great start to our week of LB&LI. I'm still struggling with distilling my story into a single high concept sentence, and this workshop is very helpful. Thanks. :)

  3. A very good workshop. My current WIP actually does have a concept and I think it's not bad, but I do like the architecture analogy. Definitely something to keep in mind for the next story/book.

  4. Anonymous2:02 AM

    I'm always learning something new with your workshops. Thank you for sharing.

    What an awesome prize packs and good luck everyone!

    Terri W.

  5. ...lost in the Forest of Cool Story Stuff.

    One of my favorite places to visit, lol! I could wander there for months...
    Good stuff, clearly explained. It's my favorite time of year for cut, paste, & save. :)
    Thanks, PBW.

  6. Thanks, Lyn. I'm off to check out the links. "Concept" I can do, but "high concept" -- something that's going to be riveting for large numbers of people besides me -- I still have trouble with.

  7. Kristen S.3:33 AM

    Wow, all I can say wow as I copy it so I can print at hubby's comp.

    Sometimes, no all the time, you ding! my brain and make me learn things that will make me a better writer once I get back on that horse and not fret so.

    Thank you.


  8. Anonymous3:35 AM

    As an aspiring author this workshop is wonderful because I've learned so much from it. I look forward to the rest of the Conference.

  9. Anonymous4:50 AM

    I never thought of planning a story in terms of blueprinting a house, but it makes a lot of sense! I like how you managed to simplify the process of coming up with a sellable concept, and it's a very helpful metaphor.

  10. This is brilliant. I like how I can save this workshop, read it any time I like, and only focus on the parts I need at the time. This is a very useful subject for me as well, as I've been struggling lately with the things covered here. Thanks!

  11. Very helpful, as always. I'm just starting a new project, and I've been checking everything I'm doing following your workshop. Seems I've been reading this blog long enough, because I seem to be in the right path (I hope!).

  12. this is a great start, glanced at the links which are all open in tabs.

    Now to carve out time to do more than skim this and the links today.

  13. Anonymous6:25 AM

    This is an amazing workshop. I found the concept planning section to be especially fascinating.

    I knew about "getting yourself into trouble" for the sake of an interesting story, but the way you explained the makeup of a hook and the importance of it really opened it up for me.

    I don't spend enough time in the concept planning because I get so wrapped up in the idea of creating a pretty house. :) I'm always thinking about the next step and I'm stopping myself from making that much better a story by not taking enough time with the hook.

    So thank you for that! :)

  14. I'm humming that song in my head: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Not Christmas, but LB&LI. The links! The workshops! The knowledge! Oh, yeah.

  15. Caroline P.7:03 AM

    Great post. :) Like Mitch, I plan on printing it out so I can reference it later.

  16. For a dyslexic writer, trying to plan, using lists or story arcs, is hard. The idea of a house plan for a story is fantastic. I have drawn up my old rectory with rooms for each major plot - sub plots are the bathrooms and studys.

    Thankk you so much.

  17. A good workshop. I think it's time to pull out the wip.

    Thansk so much.

  18. What a thought provoking way to begin the day. Thank you.

    Now I'm wondering if there aren't spare rooms in my wip that might be cut...

  19. Once again I find your insight, you're ability to take the common, and distill it even further into what the every man or woman can use. I have always found your workshops to be very interesting and somewhat sobering... I cannot thank you enough for the time you have given to the rest of us still struggling out here in the cold harsh world of novel and story writing.

  20. "....I planned the twist before I ever wrote a single word of the story, and by doing so it guided me through the story and how to present every element in order to build up to the climatic point when everything the reader assumes is basically turned upside-down and inside-out...."

    This is what I need to do more. Much, much more. Plan the twist and let the story come versus the other way.

    I'm heading out soon but I'm going to try and check in semi-regularly.

  21. This was so interesting to read and it was a great analogy to explain the process. I always enjoy following the links you add to posts! Thanks.

  22. This is a great metaphor, and I love the idea of "house of story". Thanks for the workshops.

  23. As an architecture geek, this was a really great analogy Lynn! Having gotten into plotting myself for all those problems with structural story integrity, I find this to be so so important! Thanks for hosting LB&LI again this year!

  24. I really liked how you noted the questions that the hook raises to the reader (part IV Concept Construction). It highlighted the fact that your hook can't just be interesting. It has to make the reader want to read the book to resolve something that the hook made them wonder about. Thanks for the workshops and all the year-round help!

  25. Anonymous9:02 AM

    This is a great start to the week as I'm currently in this stage of my writing with my current WIP. Very informative and, most importantly, very useful.

  26. What a great workshop. Lots of useful information. I loved the metaphors you use.

  27. Helen9:34 AM

    How is it you always manage to come up with such great analogies?
    Please stick my name in the hat.

  28. Fantastic workshop. I'm so glad you're doing this, since I can't afford the RWA con this year. I especially liked the secret lovechild witnessing powerful father's murder.
    Florence Moyer

  29. Thank you! Your post helped me solidify the structure and concept of my WIP.

  30. Wow, way to start things off with a bang. Great concept and awesome prize pack.


  31. Great workshop. It is now printed and taped to my desk.

  32. Throwing my name in the ring for the draws, and will be reading this workshop in more detail this evening ...

    Great start to our week!

    — Bonz

  33. These workshops couldn't come at a better time for me as I am starting a new writing project. And such great giveaways! Thanks so much!

  34. I think I'm going to call you 'mistress of metaphor'. :) You have a knack of using imagery to describe complex, abstract concepts in a way that makes them easy to grasp.

    Most cool--thank you for this one!

    My apologies--I didn't get it together to do a workshop this year, but I promise--I'll be back next year!


  35. I need to revisit my story blueprints as I approach my midpoint. I think I veered into the Forest. (Oh - shiny!) I love the analogy, of course, as always.

    Two points stand out to me:
    1) You should consider the neighborhood.
    2) But, always build from your own interests, when developing.

    How do you reconcile those when you want to write something really un-categorical but don't want it to join the others in the closet?

  36. Perfect timing...I am structuring out my current WIP right now and I think this will be a VERY helpful resource as I do it. :-) I can't wait to get home from the drudge day job and apply this to the work I have at home.

  37. What a wonderful & inspiring workshop. My head is full of ideas I'm hoping will still be there when I leave the day job.

  38. LisaNC7410:57 AM

    love the workshop,gave me alot to think about in terms of new ways to build my story. Thanks!


  39. Thanks, as always, for all the work you put into your craft-related posts. :)

  40. I would never have made the comparison but reading your post it makes so much sense.

  41. I've always loved your mansion metaphor, PBW, so it's nice to see a return to it. This particular post made me realize that my one of my oldest pet projects doesn't really have a hook. It's a fascinating story with (in my biased opinion) great characters, but it's difficult to describe to people without giving away the HUGE twist ending. I'll have to work on that.

    Thanks, as usual. :)

  42. A brilliant workshop! You explained the reason I've muddled through writing down my concepts. My next book will come together much more easily.

    I'm saving this post to Favorites. Thank you!

  43. who needs to go to conferences when there are blog posts like this?

  44. This is awesome information! I'm going to put it to the test when I have some free time this afternoon. Thank you so much.

  45. Great workshop, as always. I'll be checking out the other workshops later today.


  46. I've been toying with story ideas for years but never took them too seriously. As a visual person, the architecture analogy is perfect! I'm anxious to revisit my story ideas and start drawing up plans.

  47. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Dug this very much. I'm in the throes of unraveling a messy nonplot, and this was helpful.

  48. Thank you for talking about concepts. My biggest worry when writing falls under this "VI. Concept Troubleshooting." but I still write what I like.

  49. Thanks for explaining how to continue a work into other books. It had been puzzling me something awful of late. ^^

    And the concept work, too... I'll have to use it for later works.

    Thanks for providing the workshop, too. ^^

  50. Excellent workshop. Thanks!

    It's slowly dawned on me, after years of being a total pantser, that the reason I have so many novels that petered out at the halfway mark is lack of preparation.

    I simply have to plan the whole "world" and characters a bit more before I start writing so that I can keep writing.

    Thanks for all the info!


  51. Wonderful ananlogy. You've given me some great points to think about. Thank you.

  52. High concept, for me, got a lot easier after I had two novels under my belt. All I had to say about my third novel is, "It's about a bartender who is also a wizard," and people seem to get the picture.

    Strangely, TVtopes has helped me *infinitely* with themes and concept stuff. :P

  53. Thanks, as always! This is very helpful!


  54. What a great workshop! And a wonderful sense of vision. Thank you!

  55. Hey, Lynn :)

    Well, 43 comments later and all I can add, I guess, is that I'll be copying things and keeping them in a file.

    This is great. My first time and I can see I'm going to get great info.

    Thanks :)


  56. ARGH! One other thing; is it possible to enlarge the blueprint at the top? I'd love to really see it. These old eyes don't see so well, even with the really strong reading glasses *snort*

    I hate getting old...


  57. Wow Lynn... excellent word-picture on how story building works. Your words reached so deep that I scribbled out a likable high concept for the first time. Felt refreshing to tag the story I took 95,000words to build. Thank You!


  58. Anonymous1:46 PM

    I love your workshop because of all the great imformation, and all the links where I can learn more. Thank you.

  59. This is great--especially the part about hooks! I'm going to link to this so I can find it again later and remind myself.

    Thanks for doing this!

  60. This is absolutely amazing! I love the concept of your story idea as a house - there is so much to build upon, pardon the pun. That said, I am going to print this lesson out so I can highlight it and use it for this new story idea that I have - I think this concept will work well with helping me build upon (sorry, there it is again) my idea. I always love reading your posts, Lynn. I never know what I'm going to learn from them! So thank you for always posting such incredible info.

  61. I thought this was an interesting approach to story building. I normally create my characters or settings first before figuring out the conflict. I'll try this approach for my next story brainstorm and see what comes out.


  62. Anonymous2:20 PM

    thanks - this is very helpful. I've lately begun to think I missed a class in conflict and tension. And I think this is what I was missing.

    Now I have to think about it. Nanowrimo is coming up, isn't it?

  63. Sometimes things are more understanding when someone else writes it down and you read from a different view. Thanks


  64. Great blog! It has my mind spinning with new ideas. Thanks!!


  65. Thanks for the fascinating analogy! It was a very interesting workshop, and I'm really interested in learning more from all the links provided.

    Thanks very much!
    shannon @

  66. The problem with this work shop is, of course, that it makes me want to "build" something new to see what I've learned. *shakes head* Mustn't give in to the fear; must keep pushing through on SLM. But it is quite tempting. :)

  67. tambo3:44 PM

    Awesome concept!

  68. Thanks for all the praise, everyone. I'm probably going to go hide under the bed now.

    Theo wrote: is it possible to enlarge the blueprint at the top?

    I just did (click on the image to see a larger version), although I'll warn you now, I was just fooling around with it to come up with a symbolic graphic for the workshop -- so don't take it seriously. As I was enlarging it just now realized it has two chapter 2 rooms. Maybe I should add twins to the plot? Lol.

  69. Wow, I'm glad I found this workshop this year. What a wealth of information!

    I've already started applying the concepts in this one to a work I'm starting the rewrite on to make sure I keep track of the story this time around... Forest of Cool Story Stuff gets way too much of my time. xD

  70. Raine wrote: It's my favorite time of year for cut, paste, & save. :)

    A good reminder -- as in years past, after all my workshops are through I'll be posting an e-book version with all eight of them on Scribd, free to read/download/pass along, so if you don't have a chance to get into the workshops this week you can always get them in one big chunk there.

  71. Marina wrote: "Concept" I can do, but "high concept" -- something that's going to be riveting for large numbers of people besides me -- I still have trouble with.

    Marina, one habit I've gotten into is keeping an eye on screenwriter sites to read articles about screenplay concepts and developing them. No one has more pressure on them to come through with the "high concept" that the folks who write for film and TV, and they really know how to zero in on the elements that make it "high." :)

  72. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Thanks so much for this. I'm sucking it up like a thirsty sponge.

    Brother Bret

  73. Helen wrote: How is it you always manage to come up with such great analogies?

    I think I was a brick layer in another life. ;) Seriously, I am a very visually-oriented writer, and I try to see how I can make abstract things like story concepts and elements into objects. It's like the old memory trick where you remember a long series of numbers by picturing them as things; i.e. an 8 is a snowman, a 5 is a duck, a 1 is a flag, etc. I can remember concepts as objects much better than I can as a lot of explanation.

    Now if they could just come up with an object-version of English grammar, I'd be set for life. ;)

  74. LJ wrote: My apologies--I didn't get it together to do a workshop this year, but I promise--I'll be back next year!

    No problem, LJ. Life comes first, and you've done more than your share in years past. :)

  75. Thanks for the workshop.

  76. Thanks for the workshop. It's such fun to do these when I can't be at a convention.

  77. Your blog always make me want to start writing s story even if I'm the only person to ever read it.

  78. Jess wrote: Two points stand out to me:
    1) You should consider the neighborhood.
    2) But, always build from your own interests, when developing.

    How do you reconcile those when you want to write something really un-categorical but don't want it to join the others in the closet?

    If your project defies conventional categorization, you really have to look at the neighborhoods (genres/categories) out there and decide where it might fit in best. This won't be a perfect fit, but as fiction we can already assume it may work very well in the fiction/literature mainstream (which is where I think they put everything that defies categorization in the first place.)

    Sometimes too a story may have a personal theme or serve as a metaphor for something you feel strongly about that can fit into a category, even if the story doesn't appear to on the surface. If you read my story A Diversity of Houses, it seems like a pretty straightforward SF tale. It takes place in the future, on an alien world, with no humans whatsoever in the story.

    But the underlying theme of the story for me was not as much about SF as it was the development of a relationship between a man and woman (which fits it nicely into the romance neighborhood) and my own beliefs in family, honesty and the appropriate and inappropriate behavior of people of strong convictions and family values (which translates well into Christian fiction genre.) While SF may turn its nose up and say it's doesn't have enough gadgets and gizmos to be true SF as defined by the purists, I think it also works well as Anne McCaffrey-style science fantasy. So there you have a SF story that could be moved into two other genres and one sub-genre.

  79. Bethany wrote: who needs to go to conferences when there are blog posts like this?

    True, although we have to light a virtual candle for some of our blog pals who are off to the big con. Shiloh Walker is going to be at Nat'l this year *and* she's done an LB&LI workshop, too, bless her Type A heart. :)

  80. Suelder wrote: Nanowrimo is coming up, isn't it?

    This November, like clockwork. I was toying with the idea of this year writing a novel live/online, day by day, if I can swing it before the holidays. Would be fun to do even just with a novella, and I could put it in blog form so people can see how I write/edit on a daily basis. Of course, I think that's fascinating, but everyone else might use it as a sleeping aid....ha.

  81. Love the analogy. Looking forward to the rest of the week.

  82. Anonymous4:39 PM

    Great workshop. I've always wanted to write, but was so overwhelmed. This has been very inspiring and helpful. Never thought of building the story plot like that. This is so helpful. Thank you so very much. Gloria

  83. Anonymous4:42 PM

    Great workshop. Thanks for doing this. I've got some thinking to do.

  84. Hallelujah for Scribd and your willingness to put it all in ebook format. I have tried three times today to copy and paste. I have no idea why I'm having problems, but I am and so, I give up. :-P

    And thanks for the bigger picture!

  85. Terrific, as always. And you've given me a nudge about how to develop an idea that's been rattling around in my head for ages. Thank you. I owe you a big box of Triscuits.

  86. Interesting Workshop. I have to re-read it, but now I want to write...

  87. Stace5:06 PM

    I've always protested that I am a pantser - planning is against my very genetic nature. But I'm beginning to see that it isn't that way at all. The biggest difference is the formality of the process. I go through all of these steps, but most of them are not written down. Rather they are a stew in my skull for the days and weeks before I actually begin writing much at all. I'm trying to learn the discipline of noting it all down, so that I can develop a project bible of sorts, a reference tool more easily accessible than my somewhat unreliable stew recall.

  88. What a great workshop! I'm looking forward to the rest of the week, and of course following all the linky goodness! --Erin

  89. Anonymous5:13 PM

    Well, I have managed to build a house and 9 years later I'm still happy with it. I really love your analogies today and am about to get set down and see about applying them to my WIP (work in planning, not yet progress). Looking forward to the rest of the week, thanks,


  90. Thanks for this workshop! Last year's content gave me lots to think about, and am looking forward to doing the same this year.

  91. Just tossing my hat into the mix. Thanks for putting this workshop together. After a long break, I’m attempting to get back to my writing and take it beyond the fanfic stage. :)

  92. Wow--what a great first topic.

    I spent my weekend grading freshman college composition papers, and this gave me a nudge to try to have my students use this to visualize the relationships between the thesis, topic sentences, and support points.


  93. Brilliant! Using the architecture analogy suddenly makes 'concept' perfectly clear.


  94. I've been looking forward to this since I saw last year's after the fact. What a great kick off! Off to check out the links.


  95. Thank you for a terrific post. I'm in the same boat as Shiloh -- still learning how to heighten that end of book twist (I think of it as the end of the book hook) and write toward it.

    Your twists are truly exceptional -- any insights into how you craft them would be deeply appreciated!

    Thanks again, so much, for LB & LI. It's brilliant :)

    Michele Lang

  96. Michele wrote: Your twists are truly exceptional -- any insights into how you craft them would be deeply appreciated!

    When I'm brewing up twists, I always look to the characters. In the alchemy of the story, they have the most power for me. Then it's a matter of pairing them with other characters and tossing them all into a position where things become -- for want of a better word -- explosive.

    I firmly believe opposites attract, so if I have a vampire hunter, someone who despises vampires more than anything else in existence, who lost everything she had to one brutal vampire killer, and has made her reason for living to track down and execute that brute, of course she has to fall in love with a vampire.

    Only this vampire she loves (and dreams of constantly) isn't a brute or a killer -- he's gentle, and in terrible pain, and has been unfairly imprisoned, tortured and left to die. Like my vampire hunter, he's a lost soul, with no one else in the world who gives a damn about him. All they really have are their dreams and each other.

    Now, in the hands of another writer, my vampire hunter might fall in love with another vampire hunter, or the half-dead victim of a vampire, or someone who doesn't want vampires executed at all. You work the twist from differences that makes in the situation, such as the killer using the love of the vampire hunters to separate them or turn them against each other, or the victim of the vampire having to fight to hang on to his humanity, or the vampire pacificist being forced by circumstances and love to become a hunter.

    Once you have the characters you want to write, you can extend the what-if factor of what happens to them in many different directions. Daydream a little, and imagine the possibilities, like a dozen quantum universes where these two characters make different choices, and end up with unique results. Then choose the one that is the strongest, that provokes the highest degree of emotional response, and most of all that feels right to you.

  97. Anonymous7:26 PM

    Awesome workshop!!!!!!

    Very informational.

    Erin K.

  98. I learn so much from your workshop every year! Interesting opening to the workshop-I like the analogy. I'm off to check out some of the high concept workshops--I think I need that. Thanks so much for doing this for the left behinners!

  99. I'm not an author (nor do i intend to be) but I still find the mechanics fascinating. Thanks for the workshops.

    Cheryl S.

  100. I think blogger might have eaten my first post, but I didn't have anything more to add than I appreciate the very timely nature of the topic, and I'm looking forward to sitting down now that I have time and really digging through it. (I had skimmed it previously during stolen time at The Paying Job.)

  101. You know what I think? I think you should get all the goodies yourself, because my gawd, look at all the work you put into this.

    You go, girl.

  102. Lately, I've been revisiting the power of questions to help expand my concept of the story and also to keep from wandering into "play it safe" and unoriginal territory.

    I enjoyed seeing the specific example of how you used it to expand the concept you developed.

  103. THIS! I'm nearly at my wits end, contemplating just throwing in the towel for a while because none of my best-laid plans have worked out the way they appeared in my head. That first spark lit the flame of possibilities, but when I sit down to write, it flickers and dies away. Half of the trouble is my own insecurities and hang-ups, but the other is (I see after reading this workshop) that I need to rewire the way I approach writing. I've been writing for the past five years and I sadly admit that 90% of it has been spent listening to the rules and guidelines of others. But I recognize there's a disconnect between my first self (the naive, excited newbie writer), my middle self (the wary, cautious writer with the rules), and the self I want to become (smart but free, and holding a toolbox). I'm working on pull them all together so I won't go mad. This post is helping me do so. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise because I'm not ashamed to say I need serious help!! *g*

  104. Wow, awesome concept. I love it!

    I just wanted to mention that I'm so looking forward to LB&LI. Thanks for putting it together!

  105. Great post, Lynn! I know I'll be reading this again and again till the concept is burned into my brain. I've been looking forward to LB&LI and I'm glad the time has arrived. Thanks also for the various links. They'll be very helplful to me, I'm sure. :)

  106. Wow...I think this is the best writing advice I've ever gotten.

    Thank you so much :)


  107. Great workshop. Very informative.

  108. thank you...i have been anxiously waiting on this workshop week.

    this workshop really helped me...i am visual and this actually helped me with some issues i have been having with the whole process.

    tanya m.

  109. Athena10:30 PM

    Excellent Workshop. It actualy kept my attention, which is always a plus. Loved the juxtapositions. Very colorful

  110. This lurker is not as late to the party as she looks...I read your entry at lunch today, and mulled it over all afternoon. Many thanks! Hello to everyone! I'm so looking forward to this week!

  111. Wow, awesome workshop. I love it that I can re-read it anytime now. Sometimes it takes a while for things to filter in, so re-reading is a must for me. Thanks for doing this.


  112. Anonymous10:48 PM

    What a wonderful workshop. Thanks so much!

  113. I think that one of the hardest things for me is the planning. I tend to dream it up in my head, fling it all together, and then edit and change accordingly. It looks like it'll go a lot easier with this sort of design.

  114. Anonymous10:53 PM

    This has to be the clearest explanation of high concept I've ever read. I never understood when people would say things like its Jaws meets Sense & Sensibility. While everyone else nodded in understanding, I would be trying to figure it out. Your approach makes much more sense!

    Louise B

  115. Desiree A.11:16 PM

    Very insightful! I always wanted to see a visual representation of the creative writing process that works almost like a formula.

  116. Anonymous11:28 PM

    I really like this idea of starting with the concept.

  117. Well, now that ideas are flowing again, this workshop is very welcome. I like the building concept, and I have to sit down and study each point carefully. I'm slowly building my confidence back, and a lot of the things you say here make total sense, especially about the ton of unfinished projects that are in my closet. This one now is too precious to me for letting it fail. Thanks for the tips.

  118. Another great workshop to kick off LB&IL. Lynn I always get lightbulb moments with your workshops. Thank you.

  119. Something I'm going to print to read over a few times. I like the analogy that makes writing a book easy to understand.

  120. Thanks for the great post.
    I’m starting to understand focusing the hook on the central conflict of the story. Too often I come at the story’s central conflict indirectly, or passively. I’m not creating enough pressure in the central conflict to direct the story and I'm getting lost in the plot. So, thanks for opening my eyes a little more.

  121. Lauraine D.12:32 AM

    I can see how you compare a floor plan to writting. A solid base, walls, rooms, and tiny details to make it whole. Its nice to see a different way of writting ideas. Thanks for the workshop.

  122. A great start to this year's LB&L, and a very timely topic in terms of my personal writing process. This past year I've transitioned from an "intuitive writer" with four conflict-less novels under my belt to becoming an outliner. The house building and selling metaphors are very apt as well. Thank you!

  123. Anonymous12:39 AM

    I agree with Mitch. I love the fact that I can print this out and highlight it. It's tangible. :)

    So far the LB&LI workshops are awesome! Thank you for hosting again this year.

    I wonder if you'd be willing to expand on concept a bit more...

    Thank you!

  124. Very astute on the 'knock offs'. I mean, why copy someone when all you need is your own imagination? Maybe the next 'big thing' will be sourced in what's popular, but different enough to warrant attention.

    Well, a bod can dream...

  125. This is the first time I have read any virtual workshop, and now I want to go back and read all of your prior ones. I really enjoy your work, and you've made me think about my writing and where it can take me. Plus I am a sucker for the chance at free stuff. Who doesn't love free stuff? Many thanks,
    Emily H.

  126. This was really to me since I'm currently in the outlining process. I'm really looking forward to reading your other workshops! Thanks for all the great advice!

  127. I love the metaphor of house for plot. Very clever. I may try that soon. Thank you.

  128. This is something I will have to chew on. Building you novel/house.

    Thank you for all the wisdom you have given me over the years.


  129. That's a great tip about reading screenwriter sites. Thanks, Lyn!

  130. Love the building approach. And blech to eating paste.

  131. I am so happy that this week is here. Been looking forward to it for a while. What a great workshop to start off the week.


  132. Lynn wrote: "Would be fun to do even just with a novella, and I could put it in blog form so people can see how I write/edit on a daily basis. Of course, I think that's fascinating, but everyone else might use it as a sleeping aid....ha."

    I think it'd be fascinating, too, and hey, free Lynn Viehl reading? I'm there. :D

    Thanks for answering my question.

  133. All the things you wish you knew BEFORE you wrote your novel! LOL. Great post, as always, with a lot of useful information.

  134. Workshop sounds interesting. Just discovered this site today and feel like I've learned a lot. I'm an aspiring writer with 1 year left of college so getting any and all kinds of tips are most helpful. Contest sounds awesome too!!

  135. Yay! Left behind and loving it time!

    I love these workshops, they really inspire me.

  136. What a unique way to look at story construction. I have never looked at it like that. I think my problem is that I already know what color the granite is on the countertops but haven't given a thought to laying the foundation or building the walls.

  137. I definitely have some unbuilt plans and partially constructed ones. Thanks for the great post. It made me look at my current plan with a very critical eye. I think I might have to go back to the drawing board because I need to live a bit more dangerously!

  138. Thanks so very much for this conference, Lynn!

  139. Kelly Ethan7:16 PM

    I have been struggling for awhile with a new story but this workshop seems to have galvanised me to get a start.

    And I love the house blueprint visual.


    Kelly Ethan

  140. Wow! I'm taking all of this in. It really puts the construction of a story into perspective for me and breaks it down into the bare bones...which is sometimes hard for me to do.

  141. This is a great post. It's definitely given me something to think about for my current WIP. I think my concept could use a little refining; I tried to explain it to someone the other night, and it took more than a few concise clear sentences. Hmm.

    (Please only enter me for the goodie bag drawing. I'm afraid I'm addicted to writing on my laptop rather than another device.)

  142. Anonymous11:20 PM

    Lynn, in one of your comments you mentioned writing daily and showing how you edit, etc, as you go.

    I'm always fascinated with how others work through their writing. While my way of doing things might not mesh well, I might be able to pick up a few pointers here or there to help.

  143. Fantastic! I can't believe how easy you make it look! Need to remember to take a step back and think instead of getting excited and diving in head first when the idea pool is still a bit too shallow.